Athletic - Hapoel called off
Thursday's Europa League Group game between Athletic Bilbao and Israeli club Hapoel Kiryat Shmona has been postponed for security reasons.
The game, which was to played in Haifa on Thursday evening, has been put back to an as yet unconfirmed date after the Basque club and UEFA reacted to Wednesday morning's terrorist attack on a bus in Tel Aviv.
"The UEFA Emergency Panel met today and decided to postpone the UEFA Europa League match between Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC (Israel) and Athletic Club (Spain) which was scheduled to take place on Thursday 22 November at the Kiryat Eliezer Stadium in Haifa, due to the tense security situation in the region," said a statement issued on UEFA website on Wednesday at lunchtime.
Athletic president Josu Urrutia told reporters on Wednesday that there had been concerns all week about the security of his travelling players, and the impetus to postpone the game had come from him after he heard the news of the morning's explosion, which took place in the city where the squad's plane was due to land.
"We have spent days talking with the Spanish embassy in Tel Aviv and with UEFA to know at first-hand how the situation was and so that they could guarantee our security," Urrutia said. "Until today, everything was under control, but the situation has changed after the attack which took place. We insisted again and both organisations asked us for another hour to make a decision. In the end they decided to postpone, because they could not guarantee our security."
Urrutia, who spoke to reporters from the Bilbao airport where he, coach Marcelo Bielsa and his travelling squad members had been waiting to board their flight, said there was no word yet on when the game would be played.
"(UEFA) have not yet indicated a date for the game to be played, nor if it will be played on neutral ground," he said. "It is too soon. The postponement of the game is a secondary situation, I was only concerned about the security of the squad. The calendar is very difficult, but that is the least of our worries. We have showed our intention to travel and play."
Given the on-going conflict in the region the game had been viewed as high-risk, with some Athletic fans travelling in the same plane as the team and journalists covering the game. Although extra security arrangements had been put in place, Athletic midfielder Oscar De Marcos had voiced his own concerns about travelling to a war-zone on Tuesday.
"Where we are going there is a war and that scares you a bit, but they have guaranteed our security, which is important," De Marcos said. "I hope that all goes well and we can get a win."
Athletic are currently bottom of Group I with just one point from their first four games, and need a very unlikely sequence of results to go their way to qualify for the knock-out stages of the competition.
Centre-forward Fernando Llorente had not been included in the travelling squad, as he works on his fitness before likely stepping in for the suspended Aritz Aduriz in Sunday's Primera Division game at Deportivo la Coruna.