Uefa boss on Israel's Euro chances

By Simon Griver, September 3, 2010
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Israeli football received a big boost ahead of the Jewish new year with a blessing from Michel Platini, the Uefa president.

Platini, who has a Jewish wife, spoke of his joy at seeing Hapoel Tel Aviv reach the group stages of the Champions League for the first time.

And ahead of Thursday's Euro 2012 opener at home to Malta, he gave the thumbs-up to Luis Fernandez's men.

Platini said: "I know I'm not supposed to say it but as somebody who loves and supports Israel, I hope you will reach the Euro 2012 finals and I believe you will get there and do well."

He was thanked in Monaco last week by the Hapoel delegation for changing the Champions League qualification process last year to help teams from smaller countries, which has resulted in Israeli sides reaching the group state for two years in a row. Hapoel have been drawn against Lyon, Benfica and Schalke. Platini described it as "a good draw for Hapoel and an opportunity for them to reach the knockout stage".

But there was disappointment in the Hapoel camp. Most reactions focused on the lack of glamorous teams. Midfielder Gili Vermouth said: "This is not the most attractive group but we are not taking part to make up the numbers and we can take enough points to finish second or third."

As the transfer window closed, Hapoel's attempt to strengthen their squad floundered as Belgian international Anthony Vanden Borre pulled out of last-minute move but Betar Jerusalem striker Toto Tamuz has joined and Israel international midfielder Salim Tuama returned from Larissa.

Israeli Under 21 defender Nir Mantzur has signed a two-year deal with Panathinaikos.

Hapoel will open their campaign away to Benfica on September 14 followed by a home match against Lyon on September 29.

Hapoel want to bring forward this game by 24 hours because it falls on Simchat Torah.

Despite twice being rebuffed, Hapoel have asked Uefa to reconsider allowing them to host the Group Stage matches at Bloomfield Stadium. Hapoel fear they will not be able to fill the 40,000 capacity Ramat against the relatively unattractive opponents in their group.

They have set about implementing a list of improvements required by Uefa who will review the situation on September 7. Some fans have warned they will not go to group matches if they are held at Ramat Gan.

Maccabi Tel Aviv failed to make the group stages of the Europa League despite beating PSG 4-3 in the second leg. They lost 5-4 on aggregate.

    Last updated: 9:58am, September 3 2010