Teams: Beitar Jerusalem, ISRAEL NT, Inter Milan,
Israel could host a European-level soccer tournament in the near future, UEFA President Michel Platini said yesterday during a visit to Jerusalem. The former France captain said the main obstacle to a UEFA event being held in Israel was the quality of local stadiums, along with security concerns.
"If there will be better stadiums, you will definitely be able to host tournaments in the next few years, Platini told reporters at a news conference with Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon.
Israel, which has been a member of UEFA since 1994, has hosted a European tournament once - the UEFA Under-17 championships in 2000. Israeli teams have begun to advance in European club competitions in recent years, with Maccabi Haifa making its second appearance in the Champions League this season.
"There has been an improvement in Israeli soccer, and many Israelis are doing well in Europe," Platini noted.
Security concerns could be an issue, however, as in 2002 and 2006, when Israeli teams including Maccabi Haifa were forced to play their home games abroad due to military conflagrations at home.
Appearing with President Shimon Peres, Platini said he believes soccer can play a role in bringing about peace in the Middle East. Peres, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 and an avid sports fan, conversed with his guest about how soccer can be a bridge for communities around the world. Platini recalled a 2006 meeting with the president in Seville, Spain, where the two men helped put together a team of Israeli and Palestinian players for an exhibition match against a Spanish club.
Peres told the UEFA chief, "It's good to see you in Israel - I welcome you on your arrival. Here, soccer is an important part of our lives, not just the game, but also the fact that it connects people, and can even help us move toward peace."
At one point during the press conference, a group of youths including an Israel Defense Forces soldier jumped onto the podium and attempted to drape a Beitar Jerusalem scarf around Platini, who was was caught off-guard, but quickly regained composure and resumed speaking.
Meanwhile, Hapoel Tel Aviv received a fax yesterday from UEFA headquarters saying it would be subject to a disciplinary hearing over a fan's hurling a smoke grenade during its Europa League loss at Hamburg last week. If found responsible, Hapoel could face a fine of several thousand euros.