BUDAPEST, Hungary — Israel’s men’s soccer team is returning to Hungary for its “home” game in the qualifying playoffs for this year’s men’s European Championship, UEFA said Wednesday.
The March 21 game against Iceland must be played in a neutral country for security reasons during Israel’s war with Hamas.
UEFA said the match will be played in Budapest at the Szusza Ferenc stadium, which seats 13,500 people. Israel also played there last June and beat Belarus 2-1 in their Euro 2024 qualifying group. Belarus had chosen the stadium as the host venue that time, because its teams cannot host UEFA-organized games while the country is allied to Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s close ties with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then helped bring two more of Israel’s Euro 2024 qualifying matches to Hungary in November. Orbán has long promoted Hungary as the safest country in Europe for Jews and has banned Palestinian solidarity protests, arguing they present a threat to public safety.
The winner between Israel and Iceland will advance to a playoff final five days later on March 26, away against Bosnia-Herzegovina or Ukraine. If Ukraine advances, that game will be played in Wroclaw, Poland, as Ukraine cannot host international games for security reasons during the Russian invasion.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer