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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Israel hosts Euro U21s amid tight security


UEFA holds firm against calls from pro-Palestinian activists to move tournament away from Jewish state, which is staging its most important international sporting event in 45 years

Israel stages its most important international sporting event in 45 years on Wednesday when the hosts kick off the Euro Under-21 football championship amid tight security following a politically-charged build-up.
European soccer’s governing body UEFA has held firm against calls from pro-Palestinian activists to move the tournament away from Israel, who are the weakest of the eight teams competing, because of restrictions on the movement of their athletes.
Israel start their campaign against Norway, who coach Guy Luzon surprisingly believes are the toughest team in Group A ahead of usual favorites Italy and England.
“I don’t fear any player in any opposing team… we don’t know any of the players in the England, Italy or Norway teams we are concentrating only on our own team,” said Luzon, who will take the helm at Belgium’s Standard Liege next season.
Local pundits had assumed that beating Norway, who ousted France in qualifying, would be Israel’s best chance of picking up three points but Luzon suggested otherwise.
“Norway are no weaker than Italy and England even though they might not have the same reputation, but to my mind Norway will beat both England and Italy,” he added.
Underdogs Israel should be helped by the large home support and hot, humid conditions of about 30 degrees Celsius.
Many of the teams in the June 5-18 tournament will field full internationals, some of whom play for top European clubs. The lesser known players will try to impress coaches and scouts at an event considered a shop window for the future of the game.
The format sees two groups of four teams, with the top two contesting the semi-finals ahead of the final in Jerusalem. Holders Spain, Germany, Russia and Netherlands are in Group B.
Those who have top players on show include Spain, with Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea and Benfica striker Rodrigo, Germany, who have Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Lewis Holtby, and England with Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson.
The tournament is the most important sporting event Israel has hosted since the Paralympic Games in 1968.