Israel is scheduled to host the European under-21 championship soccer tournament in June of 2013, and this week preparations shifted into high gear as the president of the European Football Association (UEFA), Michel Platini, touched down in the country.
In a meeting with Platini in Jerusalem on Thursday, President Shimon Peres guaranteed that the tournament in Israel would be held in a safe environment. “When you come in June, it will be more secure and tranquil than a football game in London,” he said.
Platini said he was proud that Israel was hosting the tournament, despite his having received “many letters” opposing Jerusalem’s bid. On Wednesday, he attended the under-21 draw in Tel Aviv and a Europa League game in Haifa to assuage skeptics’ security concerns in the wake of a bus bombing which wounded 27 in Tel Aviv last week.
“We are very proud to come here. Football is a beautiful thing for peace,” he said.
Representatives of the eight countries slated to take part in the competition attended the draw in Haifa.
Israel was pooled into Group A with Norway and powerhouses England and Italy. Group B features the remaining countries participating in the tournament, Holland, Germany, Russia and Spain, which won in 2011 and is considered a favorite in next year’s games as well.
As the host country, Israel did not have to go through the qualifying rounds, but rather received a free ticket to participate in the tournament, which showcases the best players of the continent for the top teams to see.