Petit stays put as Chelsea depart

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The Independent Online

Half of Chelsea's first-team regulars will stay at home today when the Premiership side fly to Israel for the first leg of tomorrow's Uefa Cup second-round tie. Emmanuel Petit, Graeme Le Saux, Mario Melchiot, Jody Morris, Eidur Gudjohnsen and William Gallas will not be travelling on the chartered El Al jet.

The Chelsea players have been discussing whether to travel to face Hapoel Tel Aviv as the United States and Britain undertakes military operations elsewhere in the Middle East. Petit – who says he is afraid of flying – is the major absentee among the half-dozen. The names of the rest have not been released by the Premiership club.

Chelsea have already tried to persuade their worried players that there are no problems with the trip to Israel. Ronny Rosenthal, the former Liverpool and Tottenham striker, was recruited to allay their fears, but several players are opting to remain at home. Even so, Chelsea are claiming that they will send a "strong" team to Tel Aviv.

Chelsea's determination to travel has earned praise from Uefa, European football's governing body. The club had been prepared to take a youth team for the first leg if their senior players had refused to travel in the wake of last month's terrorist attacks against the US.

However, most of the first-team squad will fly out, and Uefa's communications director, Mike Lee, has issued a message of appreciation to the club, while at the same time dismissing reports that Chelsea and Tel Aviv had been offered a one-off match at a neutral venue.

"The attitude of the club has been exemplary. These are not easy times but it is important that football is played throughout Europe and in the right spirit," Lee said.

"We have worked closely with both clubs concerned and Chelsea have approached this tie in a very positive and constructive way. A lot of work does go into maintaining safety and security and Chelsea have certainly played their part.

"At no stage has the possibility of a one-off match at a neutral venue been offered or requested."

Austria's World Cup qualifier in Israel and the Under-21 international between the same countries were called off following the shooting down of an airliner flying between Tel Aviv and Russia last month, but it now appears that that accident was the result of military exercises in the Black Sea area.

* Michael Preetz scored to secure Hertha Berlin a 1-0 victory over Norway's Viking Stavanger in yesterday's Uefa Cup second-round first-leg game. Preetz struck in the fifth minute when poor marking left him free to steer the ball home. Hertha held their lead until half-time, with the Norwegians offering little threat, and Viking were left to chase the game in an uneventful second half.

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