11/08/2009

MLA Hopes For 'Friendly' Israeli Match

There are fears of disruption at this week's international soccer match at Windsor Park.

While the Northern Ireland soccer team boss Nigel Worthington believes Wednesday's friendly against Israel is "perfect preparation for upcoming World Cup qualifiers", a local MLA is worried about the sporting challenge becoming a political rally point.

Robin Newton, the East Belfast DUP MLA (pictured) has said the international football match between Northern Ireland and Israel at Windsor Park should be exactly as it is described - a 'friendly' football match.

Fearing anti-Israeli protests he said: "Those who would want to use the fixture for political protest reasons should catch themselves on and stay away from the ground.

"This is a sporting challenge between two small footballing nations with the opportunity for both teams and all supporters to enjoy the event.

"It will be competitive on the pitch but I have no doubts played in a sportsman like spirit," he said.
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"This is another opportunity for 'our wee country' to show the footballing world a good image and the type of positive support for which we are gaining an international reputation," said the Stormont Junior Minister.

However, there was considerable trouble at a previous match - against Poland - when away fans rioted with police trying to keep the peace between rival fans.

On the pitch, Northern Ireland will go into the fixture second in their qualifying group, two points behind pacesetters Slovakia and three clear of third-placed Poland.

"We've got a good, hard match against Israel, which we wanted ahead of the Poland and Slovakia games," said Nigel Worthington.

"It's a chance to get the spirit going again and get the work ethic we are looking for.

"After a three-month break, to come together three weeks ahead of two crucial games is very important - it's about getting refocused on international football," said the NI Manager.

Poland are first up in a crucial double-header with the clash in Chorzow on 5 September followed by a Belfast battle with Slovakia four days later.

The campaign ends with a trip to face the Czech Republic on 14 October.

See: Policing Soccer Violence Cost Over £100K

(BMcC/KMcA)

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