Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

United Make Best of Unwanted Draw

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

United Make Best of Unwanted Draw

Article excerpt

Byline: By Luke Edwards

Newcastle United chairman Freddie Shepherd admitted last night he had wanted to avoid Israel's Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin in yesterday's draw for the first round of the Uefa Cup.

But while Shepherd is wary of the potential pitfalls associated with such a long trip, along with the conditions they will find when they get there, Newcastle are unlikely to be able to get the game played in a neutral country.

European matches against sides from Israel have, in the past, been forced to take place in either Italy or Cyprus because of the constant threat of clashes between Israel's armed forces and the Palestinians.

But that does not look like being the case this time, with Sakhnin, who are the first Arab-owned club to win a trophy in Israel, playing all of their qualifying games inside the country, at the 40,000-capacity Ramat Gan Stadium in Tel Aviv.

United may still ask for the game to be played in a neutral country, but unless the security situation worsens, that is unlikely to be the case.

Shepherd said: "We have not got a choice in this, it's not the one we wanted but we have to make the best of it whether it's in Nazareth or Tel Aviv or Cyprus that we play.

"We are not going to whinge about it, there's no good moaning or groaning about it, let's get on and get it over with.

"Last season began as a disaster by not qualifying for the Champions League and then we profited by getting to the semi-finals of the Uefa Cup so if we do the same again I will be very happy.

"We didn't want to go to Tel Aviv, it's a fair distance to start with and the heat as well, but it's no good moaning about it."

Sakhnin is a small town of around 20,000 inhabitants and only formed a football team in 1993. They are intriguing opponents for Sir Bobby Robson's side.

The club, who qualified for the competition by winning the Israeli Cup in May, is a rare example of religious coexistence in the deeply divided nation state, with players of both Jewish and Palestinian heritage wearing the club's colours.

And even Sir Bobby Robson, with his vast experience of taking teams into Europe, admitted he was unsure what to expect from a side which finished third from bottom of their domestic league last season. …

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