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Israel eyes Cyprus as possible UEFA match venue

© Reuters 2002

NICOSIA, March 7 (Reuters) - Israel has asked Cyprus whether it can host a UEFA semi-final next week if its attempts to overturn a soccer ban on matches in the violence-ravaged region fail, a Cypriot soccer official said on Thursday.

Cyprus has been named as a likely neutral venue of the UEFA Cup tie between Hapoel Tel Aviv and AC Milan on March 14 after the European soccer body slapped a ban on matches in Israel on Wednesday.

Israel has demanded the UEFA suspension be revoked, but has also made inquiries on whether Cyprus could host the game if the decision cannot be overturned, a Cyprus Football Association (CFA) source told Reuters.

"The Israeli Football Association (IFA) contacted us unofficially to inquire if we would be willing to host a match...our response was positive," the CFA source said.

Hapoel had also made contact with authorities of the GSP, a stadium on the outskirts of the capital Nicosia. The Hapoel chairman travelled to Cyprus on Thursday to inspect facilities, the source added.

Israel would come back with an official request to Cyprus if the UEFA ban was not overturned.

A 25-minute flight away from Tel Aviv by air, Israel had eyed Cyprus as an alternative venue because of its close proximity and because most Israelis were familiar with the facilities on offer.

UEFA's decision to ban matches in Israel sparked anger among Israeli soccer officials, who said the move would affect Hapoel's chances of reaching the last four of the UEFA Cup.

Even Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres got involved, calling Milan president Silvio Berlusconi in an attempt to reverse the move.

It is the first time an Israeli club has reached UEFA quarter-finals.

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