Gaza conflict leaves Iceland boss Hareide uncomfortable with Israeli play-off

March 7 – Norwegian Åge Hareide has said Iceland should not have to play against Israel because of the atrocities in the Gaza Strip in recent months. 

In an interview with local media, Hareide, who became manager of Iceland last year, expressed his personal preference to not play Israel because of the war in Gaza but admitted Iceland have little choice but to play in the Euro 2024 play-off match.

“UEFA takes care of all the rules in this and we are part of UEFA,” said Hareide. “If we don’t play we will be banned and risk further punishment by not playing another member nation.”

“But if you ask me personally, I would hesitate to play Israel, as it stands now. Because of what is going on in Gaza, and because of what they have done to women, children and other innocent citizens. It shouldn’t be done, and we shouldn’t be playing this game if you ask me. But we have to play because the consequences would be so great for Iceland if we didn’t.”

Israel has not been banned from international football following by UEFA or FIFA. The world governing body has remained mute on the conflict in the Middle East while Uefa’s general secretary Theodore Theodoridis said that Israel’s status is not in question, explaining that “there was no such discussion or such intention from the UEFA administration” at a recent news conference.

Russia, by contrast, remains suspended but will play Serbia in a friendly at the end of the month.

“We have to change our mindset and think that the Israeli players are not soldiers,” said Hareide.

“It’s very, very difficult, and it’s difficult for me to have to stop thinking about these images that we see every day and think about Israel as a football team. This kind of behaviour should not be done to innocent people. That this is a game and that the Israeli players are soccer players and not soldiers, even though they represent a nation. This is no doubt a difficult situation for them as well.”

the Football Association of Iceland confirmed they will compete in the play-off match on March 21 in Budapest, Hungary. The winner will play Bosnia & Herzegovina or Ukraine five days later for a ticket to Euro 2024.

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