The Israeli government has invited Manchester United to play a match during the state's 60th anniversary celebrations. United manager Alex Ferguson was asked to take his team to Israel later this year during a meeting Thursday at Old Trafford with Israel's ambassador to Britain, Ron Prosor.
"I formally invited Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United to visit Israel during the 60th anniversary," Prosor told The Associated Press. "I did not get a formal answer, but it seems very positive and I think we will try on both sides to get it to happen."
The defending Premier League champions would travel to Israel at the end of the European season in May, shortly after the anniversary, to play the Israeli national team. Last June, Spanish champion Real Madrid played a mixed Israeli-Palestinian team in a charity match at Ramat Gan stadium.
Ferguson was presented with a formal invitation, which didn't specify the potential opponent, although the national team is the preferred choice. Israel's soccer team has a free summer after failing to qualify for the 2008 European Championship.
England also failed to qualify, meaning United stars Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand would likely be available for selection. England was held 0-0 by Israel in March's Euro 2008 qualifier in Tel Aviv.
United has never played in Israel, although Ferguson told Prosor he was in Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War and has made subsequent visits.
Prosor has embarked on a public relations offensive since arriving in Britain two months ago in a bid to improve Israel's image.
He hopes soccer can foster peace with the Palestinians. "There are a lot of supporters of Manchester United in Israel and for United to come out on the 60th anniversary can push football as a diplomatic tool in the region," he said.
"Through football, we can bridge peace between people and enhance better understanding. Football is a game where you need discipline, teamwork and we're working together to achieve common targets and objectives in the region."
Later Thursday in Manchester, Prosor planned to hold talks with Manchester City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson. Eriksson has visited Israel in recent years to support an Israeli-Palestinian youth soccer initiative backed by Israeli President Shimon Peres and opened schools funded by Truce International, a charity which builds soccer pitches to promote peace.
Manchester United will be traveling to the Middle East later this month on an unprecedented midseason trip to Saudi Arabia.
Between weekend Premier League and FA Cup matches, a friendly match will be played Jan. 21 against Al Hilal Al Saudi in Riyadh. It will be a testimonial match for retired Saudi Arabia striker Sami Al Jaber. United announced plans Thursday for a weeklong off-season trip to South Africa in July.