Malaysia set to ease Israeli ban for Grant

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The Independent Football

Malaysia may relax its ban on Israeli citizens to allow Chelsea's pre-season tour to go ahead. Chelsea have pencilled in a match against the Malaysian national side as part of a mini Asian tour in July but have said the club's Israeli coach Avram Grant and defender Tal Ben Haim would have to be allowed into the country. Now deputy prime minister Najib Tun Razak has said the ban may be lifted for the Chelsea pair.

"Chelsea are not my team but it's definitely good for local football," he said. "I'm not sure what the decision should be yet but it would be a pity if politics got in the way of sports. There is a travel ban. We'll have to study the situation first, but I would like to see Chelsea playing here."

Asked which team he supported, Najib said: "I'm a staunch supporter of Manchester United."

Malaysia does not have diplomatic ties with Israel and citizens must get special permission to visit the country. In 1997, the government allowed Israel to compete in a cricket tournament though the decision led to a series of demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur.

Chelsea's chief executive Peter Kenyon said last week they would not tour without Grant. He said: "We clearly could not travel without our top coach. It will make no sense to travel without a key member of the coaching staff."

Grant also said Chelsea would carry on campaigning to have their game against Everton moved back from 17 April to its original slot of 19 April. The fixture was switched to make it a live game on Sky, but with a game against Wigan scheduled for Monday 14 April, club officials are unhappy.

Grant said: "I don't understand why we need to play on a Thursday. It's unfair. When we come to the end of the season, it should be equal for all the teams. We need to fight in any way that we can to make it a fair decision."

Grant said he is confident Manchester United, who enjoy a five-point advantage over his side, will drop enough points to make next month's visit to Stamford Bridge a significant moment in the title race. The champions are due in London on 26 April and Grant said:"I don't think that each of the three teams will take all the points. Since I've been here, we've been chasing after other teams. First it was five teams, then four. We've gone past Liverpool and now Arsenal. We have to keep winning and hoping that, when United come here, it will be important."