Security a concern

Drawn against Israeli team Maccabi Haifa for a third round UEFA Cup game, AEK’s players have reacted strongly to the unlikely prospect of playing the tie’s return leg, on December 12, in Israel, citing security concerns. Officials of the Israeli side have requested that the return leg be played on Israeli turf, but, according to the Greek sports daily SporTime, AEK players declared they are «not ready to risk their lives for a soccer game.» The first leg is scheduled for November 28 in Athens. Considering the latest round of bloodshed, this time in the city of Hebron, where Palestinian militants opened fire on Jewish worshipers last Friday, killing at least 10 people and wounding several more, UEFA, the sport’s governing body in Europe, is unlikely to risk staging the third-round tie’s return leg in Israel. For obvious reasons, AEK is pushing for Cyprus as an alternative. AEK official Antonis Dracopoulos, who traveled to Tel Aviv last weekend to take notes for coach Dusan Bajevic on Maccabi Haifa’s 2-1 victory over Hapoel in a local league clash, said that he did not feel scared but was jittery. «I don’t want to say that I felt fear or insecurity. I’d say that I felt uneasy, which is how any European would feel under these conditions,» Dracopoulos told state radio ERA Spor. «The well-known exhausting security checks at the airport were conducted, and there was a strange feeling on the city’s roads,» he added. Assessing Maccabi Haifa’s performance on Sunday, Dracopoulos said its standard was along the lines displayed in the Champions League. Maccabi Haifa ended third in its group in the competition’s first phase, to clinch a UEFA Cup berth from last-placed Olympiakos. In the Champions League, the Israeli side was forced to play its three home games in Cyprus, for security reasons.

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