Austrians refuse to travel to Israel

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The Independent Online

Nine members of the Austrian international squad yesterday decided that their own personal safety was more important than qualifying for the World Cup finals and refused to travel to Israel to play for their country in a make-or-break Group Seven match on Saturday.

Nine members of the Austrian international squad yesterday decided that their own personal safety was more important than qualifying for the World Cup finals and refused to travel to Israel to play for their country in a make-or-break Group Seven match on Saturday.

In a development which has possible ramifications for Chelsea – who have been drawn against Hapoel Tel Aviv in the second round of the Uefa Cup – the Austrians said they would not travel because of heightened tensions in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the United States. Fifa, the game's world governing body, is satisfied with security assurances given by the Israelis and insists the match should go ahead as planned.

No one at Chelsea was available for comment last night but the club is taking arrangements for the first-leg tie, on 18 October, so seriously that if it goes ahead, the logo of their shirt sponsors, Emirates Airlines, will not be displayed so as not to offend local sensibilities.

Meanwhile, the Austria manager, Otto Baric, was left with the task of replacing more than a third of his 23-man squad, which has lost all five representatives from Tirol Innsbruck, the Austrian champions.

"In the present circumstances, we cannot justify flying to Israel to play sport," the Tirol defender Walter Kogler said. "It is far too dangerous there."

Austria lie second behind the Group Seven winners, Spain, three points ahead of Israel but with an inferior goal difference. If Israel win Saturday's final group game, they will pip Austria to the play-off place.

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