NYON, Switzerland (AP) — The Israel men’s soccer team will play two European Championship qualifying “home” games in Hungary at a stadium near the home village of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
The Israel-Hamas war has left the national team two games behind schedule in a three-way race with Switzerland and Romania to advance as the top two in the Group I standings.
Israel, which joined UEFA as a member in 1994, has never qualified for a Euros tournament.
Israel now needs to play four games from Nov. 12-21 and the two “home” games must be played in a neutral country for security reasons.
The Pancho Aréna stadium of the Puskás Akadémia club in Felcsút will host the games, UEFA said Tuesday. It declined to comment on how it chose the location.
Hungary has been a regular replacement venue for UEFA-organized games since 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic started, though not before in Orban’s home stadium in Felcsút where he used to play.
On Nov. 15, Israel will face Switzerland in a game that could not be played on Oct. 12. Israel will also play Romania there on Nov. 18.
Israel’s game at Kosovo that could not be played on Oct. 15 has been rescheduled for Nov. 12. Israel completes its schedule on Nov. 21 at Andorra.
Israel already went to Hungary in June to face group rival Belarus, which is playing home games in Budapest. UEFA blocked Belarus from hosting games while it is Russia's military ally waging war on Ukraine.
If Israel finishes outside the top two, it will enter the qualifying playoffs in March. Three teams will advance from the playoff brackets to complete a 24-team Euro 2024 lineup.
Israel topped a group in the Nations League second tier last year to ensure it would have a second chance to qualify for Euro 2024 hosted by Germany. That Nations League group was to include Russia before it was excluded by UEFA last year from all European competitions.
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The Associated Press