Kewell counsels caution in Italy

HARRY KEWELL has warned Florence does not represent a safe haven for Leeds’ UEFA Cup hopes.

Leeds play the second leg of their second-round clash against Hapoel Tel-Aviv at the Artemio Franchi stadium tomorrow night due to safety and security concerns in Israel. They have the cushion of a 1-0 lead.

Away from the intimidating atmosphere which would be prevalent in Tel-Aviv, Leeds would appear to be in the driving seat to reach the last 32 of the competition.

The 47,000-capacity ground, now home to Serie C side Florentia Viola following the financial collapse of former Serie A giants Fiorentina, will almost be empty, playing into Leeds’ hands.

But Kewell, who scored the only goal of the first leg at Elland Road 12 days ago, is not fooled as he said: ‘‘It wouldn’t matter where we play them, it’s going to be a hard game.

‘‘They didn’t surprise me in the first game. We knew what they were capable of after what they did against Chelsea (in the UEFA Cup) last year, and they gave us a good game.

‘‘They’re a very good side, especially going forward. They had two quick strikers and they did put us under pressure at times. It looked like they were always going to score.”

With Hapoel needing to take the game to Leeds if they are to overturn the deficit, striker Alan Smith believes that will play into the hands of Terry Venables’ side.

‘‘It was difficult and we always knew it was going to be difficult, but they are a good team who have beaten some good sides in the last few years,’’ said Smith.

With virtually no fans to cheer them on in Florence, the Tel-Aviv hierarchy have again slammed UEFA’s decision to force Israeli teams - both at international and club level - to play home matches at neutral venues.

Moshe Theumim, who owns 25% of Hapoel claims Israeli football is being brought to its knees.

If Thursday’s match were at home then Hapoel would recoup €275,000 in revenue, but every neutral venue game is costing the club that same amount of money.

A fuming Theumim said: ‘‘I don’t know how Israeli football will be able to survive if this situation continues.

‘‘As a club, we are being hurt on two levels. It hurts that our fans cannot participate, and because in Britain you have created the concept of fair play, this is definitely not a fair game.

‘‘Not being able to play on our home ground damages our chances to progress in this tournament. We have lost our 12th man, our great supporters, because we believe we’ve the best group of fans in Israel. We’re missing them and the players are missing them.

‘‘It also hurts us financially. Instead of making money, or trying to make money, we are losing quite a lot.

‘‘It takes us a lot of time to find home grounds for us to play in. It costs us a lot of money because instead of playing at home we have to fly, arrange hotels and security.

‘‘Each place where we play charges us an enormous amount of money for the security that we require, so it’s not a money-making operation. It’s a lossmaking operation.’’

The Football Association, meanwhile, is continuing to look into events at the end of last Wednesday’s Worthington Cup defeat at Sheffield United when Leeds fans, after being taunted by Blades supporters, ripped out seats at Bramall Lane before throwing them onto the pitch.

The FA is also awaiting the referee’s report from Sunday’s 4-3 win at West Ham to see if there is any mention of Mark Viduka’s cut-throat gesture towards Tomas Repka.

More in this section


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox