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    Russia faces Israel in Euro 2008 tie amid conspiracy theories

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    TEL-AVIV, November 16 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian national soccer team arrived in Tel-Aviv on Friday for a crucial Euro 2008 qualifier against Israel, with victory almost certain to ensure the side a place in next summer's tournament.

    Following October's 2-1 victory against England in Moscow, Russia are in third place in Group E, trailing Owen, Gerrard, and Co by two points. The top two sides in the group go through to Euro 2008, to be held in Austria and Switzerland.

    However, Russia have a game in hand, and three points on Saturday will see them leapfrog England, who play their last game against leaders Croatia on Wednesday. Russia's final fixture is on the same day, against no-hopers Andorra, who have lost all of their 10 games so far with a goal difference of two for and 39 against.

    The English media has been full of speculation in recent weeks that the match against Israel, where Soviet-era singer-songwriter Vladimir Vysotsky famously sang that "one in every four" people has Russian or Soviet roots, could take on a less than honest nature.

    For the Israelis the match is essentially meaningless, and the British tabloid The Sun ran a story this week quoting with horror the side's Russian-born goalkeeping trainer, Alexander Ubarov, as saying that "I would like Russia to qualify for the Euros - and for them that means winning in Israel."

    Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's well-known connections to Israel have also been touched upon. Abramovich has spent large amounts of money on building up Israeli football, and the English press have voiced suspicions that the country's national team may go easy on Russia as a result.

    The Russian side's Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink, rejected claims that the game's result was a foregone conclusion, telling journalists that, "The less serious sections of the mass media have been writing garbage [about the fix allegations] but I don't give them much credence. We are going to face another tough game against Israel, who are traditionally very strong at home."

    Indeed, Israel have only lost once at home during the current qualifying stage - a 4-3 defeat to Croatia last year - and they went through the entire World Cup 2006 qualifying campaign without tasting defeat on home soil.

    Israel and Russia drew 1-1 in Moscow in October 2006.

    If Russia do go through to the finals of Euro 2008 at the expense of England, it will be the first time that England will have failed to qualify for a major tournament since the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. It will almost undoubtedly cost Steve McClaren his job, as well as raising the profile of Russia's booming football scene.

    "If you study the group's results so far, then you will see that Russia deserve to qualify," said Hiddink, who has also said that Saturday's match is "like a World Cup final for me."

    Russian striker Alexander Kerzhakov, currently at Spanish club Sevilla, although reportedly a target for Arsenal, said that, "England have a team of big stars who earn an awful lot of money from playing with their private deals. Russia have a compact group of players who don't have anywhere near as much money, but with far more hard workers on the field. That's the difference between the countries."

    The match kicks off at 9:00 p.m. Moscow time (6:00 p.m. GMT).