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By ESPN Staff

UEFA pledge over Reds' Israeli concerns

UEFA have vowed not to put the players, fans and officials of Liverpool at risk, after the Reds were left facing the prospect of a trip to war-torn Israel in their Champions League qualifier.

Rafael Benitez's team, competition winners in 2005, face a two-leg third qualifying round match against Maccabi Haifa.

Liverpool are at home in the first leg, on August 8 or 9, and are due to play in Israel in the second leg two weeks later.

UEFA official Rob Faulkner explained: 'We've asked the Israel FA and relevant authorities to give us assurances concerning safety.'

Faulkner explained that the Israeli FA had been asked to look at alternative venues, should the game be played outside Israel.

He continued: 'We all see the news and have serious concerns - and the situation is changing daily.

'But this is the right way to do it and we're asking the right people.

'We'll be in discussions with both clubs but the key is the safety of players, fans and officials - and we wouldn't go ahead if we didn't have those assurances.

'We have played with problems and conflict there before and also played games away from Israel. That is Plan B - a back-up plan.'

Meanwhile, Maccabi president Jacob Shachar is optimistic the game against the competition's winners in 2005 will go ahead.

And Shachar told Sky Sports News: 'Tel Aviv is quiet - let's hope things will stay quiet and we will be able to host Liverpool.

'It's an unpleasant situation although we understand Liverpool's concerns.'

Shachar is delighted the team have the chance to play Liverpool again - after fielding an ineligible player cost them years ago.

He continued: 'We lost the chance to play Liverpool years ago when we were suspended - and I am glad we can play this game.

'Liverpool have many supporters in Israel and one of their former players, Ronnie Rosenthal, played for Maccabi Haifa.'

Arsenal face a two-legged match against Lithuania's Ekranas or Croatia's Dinamo Zagreb - home nation of Arsene Wenger's first-team coach Boro Primorac.

The Gunners will have home advantage in the second leg and vice-chairman David Dein said: 'We found last season that to get to the final you have got to beat the best teams along the way.

'The boys who played in the later stages of the World Cup may not be ready for the game - that's up to Arsene.

'Ideally we'd like this game a bit later on but we have to deal with it.

'Qualification is important, not just financially but also for the sporting aspect - we want to win every competition we enter.'

Hearts will meet AEK Athens in the third round if they can complete a second-round triumph over Siroki Brijeg on Wednesday after a 3-0 win against the Bosnia champions this week.

Former Tynecastle boss Craig Levein said: 'I had them marked down as one of the teams who could give Hearts a better chance of going through.

'They have more experience in this competition but Hearts will have had a few competitive matches before the tie, assuming they get through against Siroki.'

However, Hearts do possess a potential `spy' with Greece international Takis Fyssas within their ranks.

Levein added: 'I would expect the coach will be consulting Takis to get as much information as he can.

'He has not played in Greece for a while but I am sure he will have his finger on the pulse and will know most of the players and the way the team plays.'

Cork City were paired against AC Milan in the third qualifying round - but they face an uphill battle to set up the clash, having lost their first leg to Red Star Belgrade 1-0 at Turner's Cross on Wednesday.

Liverpool secretary Bryce Morrison said: 'We have concerns over this situation - obviously it's not the safest place in the world to travel to.

'From the information given we'll be making more investigations - but it's very early days yet.'

Asked by Sky Sports News if he thought playing in nearby Cyprus was an option, Morrison added: 'I don't think Cyprus is an option at the moment due to the number of people from Lebanon who are there at the moment.

'We'd prefer it to be played at a neutral ground somewhere else.'