Israel key to Russia’s supremacy over England

Around 4,000 Russians are in Tel Aviv for Saturday's crunch Euro 2008 qualifier with Israel. A win for Russia will almost certainly mean they'll qualify at the expense of England, with Russia only needing to beat lowly-placed Andorra next week to progress.

However, the Israeli side is warning observers not to write it off, even though the team is out of the championships.

"There are so many questions being asked about the integrity of the Israeli national team. The team will do everything they can because they are playing for our flag, team, country and fans," Ofer Ben Arad, the Israeli Football Team Spokesman said.

Meanwhile, like any crucial sports match, conspiracy theories are doing the rounds.

There are rumours of Israeli players being paid huge sums of money to let the Russians win.

The latest suggestion in Israel is that UEFA changed the referee because of pressure from the Russians.

Police here are much more worried about the ground and a threat of a possible terror attack on the Ramat Gan stadium.

"We've been informed that lots of football fans from Russia are coming. And, naturally, there will be some aggressive ones among them. We are ready for any situation," Sergey Delegach from the Israeli Special Police unit says.

On Friday, the Russian team touched down in Tel Aviv fresh from a training camp in Cyprus.

The odds favour a Russian win, which would almost guarantee them an entry into the finals.

The stakes are just as high for the masters of the game - the English. Their only way back into the championships is if Russia fails to win.

Meanwhile, in England the rivalry surrounding Saturday's match is being stoked by one of the UK's leading newspapers. An article in the Times called on English fans to get behind Israel, but thousands of Russians were far from happy.

The editors say the article was misinterpreted as a call to arms, and they'd now like to extend the global hand of friendship and call a stop to the abuse.

James Major, the Times Online sports editor says, "An article in the paper and an article on the website says 'post your messages of support for our Israeli friends'. And certainly it seems that the Russians have taken all too personally. We've been flooded with a lot of unprintable material".

If Russia makes it through to the European championships, 'they deserve to be there'. But, he said, "We still want the Israeli team to win."

The Ramat Gan stadium will be packed to the rafters for Russia's crucial clash with Israel. All of the 42,000 tickets have been sold as the tension builds to fever pitch. And a lot of high-ranking guests are also expected in the stadium's VIP section.

Well-heeled Russian fans have spent around $US 1 MLN to get a seat in the area where they will rub shoulders with the great and good.

Some 860 tickets had a face value of up to $US 2,000.

All the cream of Russian business society will attend the game including Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, former chairman of Norilsk Nikel Mikhail Prokhorov and the Lukoil vice-precident Leonid Fedun.

Russian politicians will also take their seats in the exclusive area. Among them are Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, Head of Accounts Chamber Sergey Stepashin and Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov.

It's estimated that the joint wealth of these elite football fans will exceed $US 150 BLN. ( RT )

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