FC Barcelona, the most popular soccer team in the world will hold a special visit in Israel to promote peace. The visit was initiated by President Shimon Peres and will see the team playing for Israel and Palestinian children at Tel Aviv-Jaffa’s Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday.
“I am excited to be welcoming one of the best teams in the world,” Peres said. “I am convinced that sport is a way to lift barriers. For many kids in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority it’s a dream come true to meet stars like Messi, Iniesta and Neymar, and even play with them.
“The game will reflect principles of peace, moderation and curiosity.” The President’s Residence jokingly remarked that Peres intends to spend his weekend practicing to prepare for Messi’s kick off.
The team will be accompanied by a large delegation of 300 guests and fans who follow the players around the world. They will visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Western Wall and the Badoura Stadium near Hebron. They will possibly also meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The main event will be watched by an audience of 14,000 teens – guests of the Education Ministry which is launching a program aimed at promoting tolerance and acceptance in schools throughout the country.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not attend the game so as not to complicate security procedures. He will instead attend a team practice at the Maccabiah village together with his wife Sara. The couple has invited teens suffering from cancer to the meet.
Barca’s trip to Israel was produced by Comtec.
Israel came in for warm praise from European football’s supremo Michel Platini as the Euro Under-21 football championships ended with Spain thrashing Italy 4-2 to retain the title.
“The stadiums were wonderful and well-organized, the pitches excellent and the atmosphere in the stadiums was great with many families with young children attending. That is exactly the type of tournament that I like to see,” Platini told a news conference.
Spain stood out above all their opponents, winning all their matches without conceding a goal until the final and their flowing style captivated the crowds. They won a fourth title in Jerusalem, one fewer than the record held by Italy.
Israel qualified as host and was on paper the weakest team in the event, although it managed to beat England in a meaningless encounter and forced a draw with eventual semi-finalists Norway.
It was a disappointing outing for Germany, Russia and England, who never threatened to advance to the semi-finals, while the Netherlands showed flair but was frail defensively.
The 13-day tournament was the most important international sporting event to be held in the Jewish state since the 1968 Paralympics and was held amid tight security following a politically-charged build-up.
Israel stages its most important international sporting event in 45 years on Wednesday when the hosts kick off the Euro Under-21 football championship amid tight security following a politically-charged build-up.
European soccer’s governing body UEFA has held firm against calls from pro-Palestinian activists to move the tournament away from Israel, who are the weakest of the eight teams competing, because of restrictions on the movement of their athletes.
Israel start their campaign against Norway, who coach Guy Luzon surprisingly believes are the toughest team in Group A ahead of usual favorites Italy and England.
“I don’t fear any player in any opposing team… we don’t know any of the players in the England, Italy or Norway teams we are concentrating only on our own team,” said Luzon, who will take the helm at Belgium’s Standard Liege next season.
Local pundits had assumed that beating Norway, who ousted France in qualifying, would be Israel’s best chance of picking up three points but Luzon suggested otherwise.
“Norway are no weaker than Italy and England even though they might not have the same reputation, but to my mind Norway will beat both England and Italy,” he added.
Underdogs Israel should be helped by the large home support and hot, humid conditions of about 30 degrees Celsius.
Many of the teams in the June 5-18 tournament will field full internationals, some of whom play for top European clubs. The lesser known players will try to impress coaches and scouts at an event considered a shop window for the future of the game.
The format sees two groups of four teams, with the top two contesting the semi-finals ahead of the final in Jerusalem. Holders Spain, Germany, Russia and Netherlands are in Group B.
Those who have top players on show include Spain, with Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea and Benfica striker Rodrigo, Germany, who have Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Lewis Holtby, and England with Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson.
The tournament is the most important sporting event Israel has hosted since the Paralympic Games in 1968.
Since 2009 primary schools from all over Europe have been taking part in their very own version of the Eurovision contest, entitled Schoolovision. This year, 41 countries took part in this event, which has won several international education awards. Since its inception over 100 entries have been performed by a total of over 400 children.
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As Israeli airlines clashed with the government over the “open skies” agreement, European low-cost airline easyJet announced plans to conquer Israel’s skies.
The company is launching these days an aggressive marketing campaign in London, aimed at promoting tourism to Tel Aviv among young people and couples without children, under the banner “Go Big in Tel Aviv.”
The activity is part of easyJet’s spring campaign in cooperation with Israel’s Tourism Minister, which includes billboard advertising and ads in leading websites and newspapers.
In the coming days, taxicabs in London will be covered with ads calling on the airline’s passengers to take a vacation in Tel Aviv and enjoy a different experience, stressing the city’s vibrant nightlife.
More weekly flights
“When we started flying to Israel, we never imagined it would be such a success,” says Hugh Aitken, easyJet’s commercial manager in the United Kingdom.
According to Aitken, easyJet’s London-Tel Aviv route is one of the company’s most successful lines, and the airline’s goal is to double the number of passengers using this route. Currently, 66% of the passengers are British, and the company is interested in increasing the number of Israeli travelers.
“Within three years we went from three flights a week on the London route to nine flights, and in a few months we’ll move up to 11 flights, at high occupancy,” says Aitken.
easyJet, the biggest airline in Europe operating flights to Israel from London, Manchester, Basel and Geneva, is eagerly anticipating the implementation of the “open skies” agreement.
Following the agreement’s approval, the company is preparing to offer flights to Israel from Rome, Milan, Paris, Nice, Berlin and every other destination the company is based in and where market research conducted by its commercial department will justify the opening of a new line.
In order to understand the meaning of the company’s “market research,” one must visit the easyJet headquarters at the Luton Airport near London and witness the operation of the nerve center of the company which carries more than 60 million passengers a year.
In the headquarters, located inside a huge hangar which is also used for aircraft maintenance, there are no offices, no separation between employees, and they all work together in harmony in an open space. Even CEO Carolyn McCall doesn’t have an office, and she sits together with all the other workers in the open space.
“Before launching a new destination,” says Aitken, “we conduct a profitability analysis. Even after we open a new destination, we examine it several months later in order to see the growth in traffic on the one hand and the level of income on the other hand. The fact that we can’t recall ever shutting down a route proves that we are doing a good job.”
easyJet’s prices, like all low-cost companies, are based on the following standard: The earlier you book your trip – the cheaper the flight ticket. For example, passengers booking a flight to London for January 2014 will pay $280 for a roundtrip ticket.