France defender Bixente Lizarazu says Wednesday’s match against Israel in Palermo cannot be regarded as an ordinary encounter because of current events in the Middle East.

Israel has been forced to play its home EURO 2004 qualifiers on neutral venues because of the ongoing security concerns in the country.

‘Playing Israel is something different,’ said Bayern Munich’s Lizarazu.

‘We know this match could have been called off. Weare soccer players but we are also human beings and we are concerned about the international situation at the moment.

‘When he unveiled his squad two weeks ago, French coach Jacques Santini said it would be sensible to postpone the game against Israel if there was any risk. Eventually the French federation decided to keep the fixture unchanged.

The French federation’s general manager Gerard Enault there was any risk attached tothe fixture.

‘A no risk situation doesn’t exist,’ said Enault.

‘But we are not feeling under any special threat at the moment.’

Coach Santini even believes that Israel’s enforced exile could act as a useful motivating tool fduring their EURO 2004 qualifying campaign.

‘I know the chairman of the Israeli federation is upset with this situation,’ said Santini.

‘But it’s not a complete disadvantage.

‘I’m certain the Israelis will find some extra motivation to play as they can’t rely on the backing of their fans. It will be up to us to be strong mentally and avoid thinking that we are not going to play away. We must not take the situation too lightly.’

Zinedine Zidane, captaining the side in the absence of Marcell Desailly, said all talk in the dressing room will be about football.

‘It’s going to be a soccer game. And in the changing rooms we are going to talk about soccer,’ he said.

‘Taking on Israel is no trouble for us. We had to travel anyway. If there is a problem, I would say it’s more on their side as they can’t play at home.’