Chelsea soccer coach Jose Mourinho said none of his players was concerned about coming to Israel for Tuesday’s European Champions League game with Maccabi Tel Aviv, despite British Home Office warnings about the current surge in Palestinian terror attacks.
Everybody “just wanted to come” and nobody had any fears, Mourinho told a pre-match press conference on Monday.
“I had even a player who maybe tomorrow or after tomorrow, his wife is having a baby. And he’s here to play, because he knows how important it is for us.”
The presence of the full squad contrasted with a visit to Israel by Chelsea in 2011, for a game with Hapoel Tel Aviv, in which six players — Marcel Desailly, Emmanuel Petit, William Gallas, Albert Ferrer, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Graeme Le Saux — stayed away. “I didn’t have one single problem inside of the squad. I didn’t have a Graeme Le Saux,” Mourinho said Monday.
“We can just focus on playing… The best way is to focus on football and the happiness you have to play football, the responsibility you have to play football. And leave security questions to people who know more than we do.
Mourinho said he believes Chelsea, which is owned by Russian-Jewish oligarch Roman Abramovich, will take a major step towards turning around their troubled season if they can seal qualification for the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday.
Mourinho’s side face Maccabi Tel Aviv in their penultimate Group G fixture knowing a victory combined with a draw or defeat for Dynamo Kiev against Porto would guarantee their progress to the knockout stages.
That would be a significant boost for Mourinho, who has come under fire following Chelsea’s woeful form in the Premier League.
Buoyed by Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Norwich on Saturday, the Blues boss believes his players’ confidence is finally returning.
“We can qualify tomorrow (Tuesday) and if we play like we are playing lately I think we have a good chance,” Mourinho told the press conference in Haifa.
“I like the confidence the team showed against Norwich. I think players are getting their confidence back.”
Despite Mourinho’s renewed confidence in the squad, he is also aware Chelsea will be in danger of being knocked out if they slip up against Maccabi.
“Tomorrow is simple, if we lose we are in trouble, we have to rely on others,” he said.
“If we get a draw we can qualify in the last game but we can’t be first. And tomorrow if we win we could qualify depending on the other result, so this game is very important for us.”
Mourinho expects the tie to be much more difficult than the first time the clubs met in September, an encounter Chelsea won 4-0, because Maccabi now have more experience in the Champions League and will have the backing of their vociferous fans.
“For Maccabi Tel Aviv this season at Stamford Bridge it was their first game, it was raining, the pitch was very fast and Chelsea started quickly and played really well,” Mourinho said.
“At home for them it is different and the results here against Porto and Dynamo could be different…. They will feel the support and it will be much more difficult for us.”
While Chelsea are currently 12 points adrift of the Premier League’s top four, Mourinho insists his team can still make it back into Europe’s elite club competition next season.
“I said this season that one big team will not qualify for the Champions League and I hoped it wouldn’t be us. We just have to take it game by game,” he said.
“We have a lot of games ahead and the Premier League is still a good platform for us to qualify for the Champions League.”
Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic echoed Mourinho’s confidence and said the club remains focused on finishing in the top four in the Premier League.
The Serbian international also joked with reporters that last time he was in Israel, he scored two goals with the Serbia U-21 squad.
Blues striker Radamel Falcao and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois are due to miss out through injury, while Maccabi Tel Aviv will have to do without striker Dejan Radonjic, who is out with a calf injury.