Bnei Sakhnin ready to humble Newcastle

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Newcastle will play their part in an historic European tie when they face the first Arab side to represent Israel in the UEFA Cup first round.

Newcastle will play their part in an historic European tie when they face the first Arab side to represent Israel in the UEFA Cup first round.

Football may be a religion on Tyneside but the Magpies will find spiritual beliefs taken rather more seriously by supporters of their opponents.

Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin come from a Palestinian town of 20,000 inhabitants in Nazareth, near the Sea of Galilee, an area which was once a hotbed of anti-Israeli protests.

They have a Jewish coach Eyal Lachman, an Arab captain, and a mixture of Arab, Jewish and overseas players but have struggled to make friends since being promoted to the Jewish-dominated Israeli first division.

After today's draw in Monaco, Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd made no secret of the fact that he would have preferred less problematic opponents. UEFA have cleared Bnei Sakhnin to play their home leg in Tel Aviv and no English side have gone to Israel since Chelsea lost 2-0 to Hapoel Tel Aviv in 2001 after six players refused to travel.

Shepherd said: "We have not got a choice in this, it's not the one we wanted but we have to make the best of it whether it's in Nazareth or Tel Aviv or Cyprus that we play. We are not going to whinge about it, there's no good moaning or groaning about it, let's get on and get it over with.

"Last season began as a disaster by not qualifying for the Champions League and then we profited by getting to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup so if we do the same again I will be very happy.

"We didn't want to go to Tel Aviv, it's a fair distance to start with and the heat as well but it's no good moaning about it."

The Magpies will be at home in the first leg on Thursday, September 16 before heading for the National Stadium a fortnight later.

Manager Sir Bobby Robson said: "We know very little about them at this stage, and expect they know a great deal more about us due to the popularity of the Premiership on television around Europe.

"That said, we will scout them thoroughly, take no chances, and be fully prepared for the first leg next month."

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