Israel concerns after Reds defeat in Zurich

August 1, 2006

Peter Crouch has made it clear Liverpool's stars do not want to set foot inside Israel to play their Champions League qualifier.

The England striker backed boss Rafael Benitez's stance on the issue, after making his first appearance since the World Cup with a 30 minute run-out in Liverpool's 2-0 friendly defeat against Grasshopper in Zurich.

Liverpool have been drawn against Maccabi Haifa in the third qualifying round, the first leg being at Anfield next Wednesday.

But it is the second leg - scheduled for the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on either August 22 or 23 - which is continuing to give Liverpool serious problems in the current Middle East crisis and the war in Lebanon.

The Reds have protested to UEFA about the venue for the second leg, and will get an answer on Monday, boss Rafael Benitez having already hit out at any thought of playing a big match in Israel.

Liverpool have already been given a boost by Europe's governing body telling Israel that they must find neutral venues for their clubs' UEFA Cup qualifying ties next week.

They now expect UEFA to insist their Champions League tie is also moved to a safe European venue, Holland, Slovenia or Italy having been suggested.

And Crouch underlined the fears of his team mates by saying: 'Our manager has made it clear very clearly already what he feels, and we agree.

'We don't really want to be playing in Israel and the tie should be moved somewhere else.

'But we have to concentrate on getting the right result and go out and do our job wherever it is played.'

Crouch, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher all played their first football since the World Cup today.

And the England striker said: 'We were disappointed to lose because you always want to win games - be they friendlies or big matches.

'But the main point is that fitness-wise, we seem to be getting things right.

'It was good for people like me, Stevie (Gerrard) and Jamie (Carragher) to get our first run-outs of the close season build-up.

'It was our first game and we only played half hour each, but things went well for us out there and the form was there, regardless of the result.'

Benitez also praised Gerrard's contribution, the skipper almost saving the game with a trio of good opportunities.

The Spaniard explained: 'It was a typical pre-season game and we created seven or eight good chances but couldn't score.

'But the main positive for me was the return of Gerrard, Carragher, Crouch and (Jan) Kromkamp.

'Gerrard was sharp and was unlucky not to score and it's good to have players returning to action after they played in the World Cup.

'We made some mistakes for the goals but I'm not too worried about that as we are trying some players out and giving some young players a chance.

'I thought it was an open game but I don't like open games because that can cause you problems defensively.'