Israel is preparing for its most important games of the qualifying campaign for Euro 2012. This is theoretically where the new manager Luis Fernandez has to earn his paycheck. Croatia and then Greece within three days is basically make or break for Israel’s campaign in the Euros. Both teams on paper are better, with Greece being marginally so. Croatia will undoubtedly pose the greater challenge with players like Luka Modric of Tottenham, and Eduardo and Darijo Srna of Shakhtar Donetsk. Croatia has a very balanced squad and is exceptionally strong in the midfield. However, IF Israel bring’s its A game then any result is possible. Greece are a different kind of team with a plethora of defensive players and tends to rely more on its counter-attack. Greece are a more familiar foe for the Israelis whom they tied and lost to in the last qualifying campaign. Luis Fernandez made a few controversial notably leaving out Maor Buzaglo and calling up Alroee Cohen, but other than that his squad was largely within the expectations of the public and media in Israel. Israel will be relying on Elyaniv Barda and Itay Shechter to cause trouble for opposing defences after Yossi Benayoun’s injury, even though he has been included with the team. Israel will have to score first if they want to give themselves a chance to win against either team.
Keepers: Dudu Aouate (Mallorca), Ohad Levita (RKC Waalwijk), Ariel Harush (Beitar Jerusalem)
Defenders: Tal Ben-Haim (West Ham United), Dekel Keinan (Blackpool), Rami Gershon (Kortrijk), Yoav Ziv (Maccabi Tel-Aviv), Dani Bondarv (Hapoel Tel-Aviv), Dedi Ben-Dayan (Hapoel Tel-Aviv), Dor Malul (Maccabi Tel-Aviv), Oshri Roash (Hapoel Haifa)
Midfielders: Tamir Cohen ( Bolton Wanderers), Almog Cohen (Nurnberg), Bibras Natcho (Rubin Kazan), Eran Zahavi (Hapoel Tel-Aviv), Gili Vermouth (Hapoel Tel-Aviv), Eyal Golasa ( Maccabi Haifa), Lior Rafaelov ( Maccabi Haifa), Yossi Benayoun (Chelsea)**
Forwards: Amit Ben-Shushan (Beitar Jerusalem), Aloroi Cohen (Kiryat Shmona), Elyaniv Barda (Racing Genk), Itay Shechter (Hapoel Tel-Aviv), Omer Damari (Hapoel Petah-Tikva), Roberto Colautti (Maccabi Tel-Aviv)
*Biram Kiyal of Celtic was called up, but pulled out due to abdominal pain. * Even though Yossi Benayoun was called up it is unlikely he will play in either game.
Another Champions League loss for Hapoel Tel-Aviv, and another close game for the Reds. Playing arguably the best team in their group, Hapoel fought and scrapped, but was ultimately outclassed by a better Lyon side. Michel Bastos was the difference for the French team as he scored a penalty early on in the game after a Walid Badeer foul on Jimmy Briand. Hapoel threatened on several occassions, but was unable to make anything of their possession early on. Gili Vermouth was a standout player for the reds. Ben Sahar also got a few shots in on goal in the first half, however he barely troubled Lyon keeper Hugo Lloris. In the 36th minute, Michel Bastos scored a wonder goal as Lyon seemingly slammed the door shut on any chance for Hapoel to get points from the game. The second half was different for Hapoel as they came out with more verve and flavor. Itay Shechter thought he scored a goal in the 55th minute, but instead was cautioned correctly by Howard Webb for handling the ball in the penalty area. Dejan Lovren gave Hapoel a gift when he pulled down Douglas Da Silva in the 79th minute inside the 18 yard box, and Vincent Enyeama cooly slotted the penalty to bring Hapoel back into the game. 2-1 Lyon. However a mistake by Hapoel at the end of the game led to a Miralem Pjanic goal and the game ended 3-1 to Lyon. Overall Hapoel didn’t embarrass themselves, but will have to do better if they expect any points from their next group games.
Hapoel Tel-Aviv will need to recover from a devastating loss on Saturday in order to focus against French giants Olympique Lyonnais who are currently in terrible league form with only 5 points from 7 games. Lyon are an imposing side despite their league struggles and they managed to beat Hapoel’s fellow group team Schalke 1-0, on matchday one of the Champions League. Lyon are still a potent force with players like Lisandro Lopez, Miralem Pjanic and Hugo Lloris, and Hapoel will be wary of the French visitors. Hapoel will rely on the attacking duo of Itay Shechter and Ben Sahar up front with Gili Vermouth and Eran Zahavi providing support. I suspect that Hapoel’s plan will be to absorb pressure and work off the counter-attack. Hapoel can win if they provide better defense, and Eli Guttman is likely to make three more defensive minded changes to Hapoel’s lineup that lost on Saturday. Romain Rocchi, Walid Badeer, and Dani Bondarv will all come in at the expense of Bevan Fransman, Avihai Yadin, and Omri Canada. I expect a good game, and I think Hapoel can win if they execute and make less mistakes than the French. 2-0 to Hapoel.
- Yossi Benayoun is injured and did not play for Chelsea.
- Tamir Cohen did not play for Bolton, and wasn’t on the bench.
- Tal Ben-Haim was on the bench for West Ham and did not play in their win against Tottenham.
- Dekel Keinan was on the bench for Blackpool and did not play in their loss to Blackburn.
- Dudu Aouate played the whole game against Real Sociedad in Mallorca’s 2-0 win.
- Almog Cohen was on the bench for Nurnberg but didn’t play in their 2-0 loss to Frankfurt.
- Bibras Natcho was on the bench for Rubin Kazan but did not play against Alania Vladikavkaz.
- Ze’ev Haimovic was not on the bench as Terek Grozny lost to Lokomotiv Moskva.
- Shimon Abuhatzeira played for Larissa in the second half against Kerkyra in a 1-1 draw.
- Eitan Tibi did not play in Chareleroi’s loss to Lierse.
- Shlomi Arbeitman came on in the 87th minute for Gent in their 2-0 win over St. Truiden
- Rami Gershon played a full 90 minutes against Cercle Brugge in a 2-1 loss.
- Elyaniv Barda came on in the 65th minute and had two goals and an assist in Genk’s 3-0 win over Zulte Waregem.
- Gil Blumenstein came on in the 88th minute for Caledonian Thistle in their 2-1 win over St. Mirren.
- Biram Kiyal did not play in Celtic’s 2-1 win over Hibernian.
Yesterday Hapoel Tel-Aviv showed signs that it is under pressure after conceding four goals against recently promoted Kiryat Shmona. In addition owners Moni Harel and Eli Tabib have been squabbling, which can only make a pressure filled situation worse. Hapoel must gain at least a win or draw against Lyon this Wednesday in order to keep the pressure off its coach Eli Guttman. Bevan Fransman and Avihai Yadin were at fault on three of the goals and many will be wondering if it was a lack of focus that cost the Reds the game. If Hapoel plays like they did Saturday then they should pack their bags and not even bother to play the French visitors. There were some positives like Itay Shechter scoring two goals, but Hapoel will need a team effort to win against a strong Lyon side.
- Beitar Jersualem are looking for their first league points of the season after three straight losses to open up the season. Up and comers Hapoel Be’er Sheva will provide a tough test, but Beitar will be feeling confident after they beat Hapoel Ashkelon in the Toto cup 3-1. Amit Ben Shushan will be the key to Beitar’s offensive game as he has been the lone bright spot after a dismal start in the league. Be’er Sheva have collected four points in the league so far and will look to challenge on the counterattack with David Revivo and Maor Melikson. Beitar’s new look center back pairing of Cristian Gonzalez and Moshe Mishaelof should provide some stability after the uncertainty that Shimon Gershon and Tomer Ben-Yosef have offered. I believe that Beitar has turned a corner and should take care of business 2-1 at home.
- Maccabi Haifa have started the season decently with two draws and a win, however Elisha Levy will still be feeling the pressure from the fans and the owner Yaakov Shachar to succeed. Last week they only managed a draw against Hapoel Be’er Sheva, but will need the points to keep pace with surprise league leaders Hapoel Haifa. Eyal Golasa and Idan Vered will both start in an offensive lineup that will look to keep Bnei Yehuda on their toes. Bnei Yehuda will bench Dean Mori and start Aviv Hadad after shaky display last week. Pini Balili will start up front and will look to cause Haifa’s central defenders lots of trouble. Haifa for the win 3-1.
- Hapoel Tel-Aviv has had a rocky start to the season with a win, draw, and loss. However the Israeli champions will be looking to rebound against newly promoted side Kiryat Shmona who have a surprising seven points from three games so far, and will not be easy opponents for Tel-Aviv to handle. Hapoel should field a full squad including Itay Shechter who last played against Benfica in the champions league. Bevan Fransman will start in the center of defense replacing Walid Badeer who has started to show his age. Kiryat Shmona has some dangerous players including Alroi Cohen, and Tomer Swissa. Hapoel Tel-Aviv should be able to take the points, 3-0 Hapoel.
- After losing the first game of the season the Galacticos of Maccabi Tel-Aviv have started to look dominant. They proved that midweek when they thrashed Maccabi Netanya 5-1. Haris Medunjanin and Avi Strool are both recovering from injuries, but Medunjanin is likely to feature in Monday’s showdown against a stalwart Ashdod team. Dimitar Rangelov and Gal Alberman who both started midweek are doubts to start on Monday, but will play against the Dolphins. Ashdod have a well balanced team and will be hard to break down. Bulgarian striker Dimitar Makriev is a threat in the air and partners well with Idan Shriki in attack. Coach John Gregory will be looking for Ashdod’s second win of the season after an average start. Maccabi shouldn’t be bothered, 4-0 to the Yellows.
As Israel has two key Euro 2010 qualifying games approaching, we have learned that Yossi Benayoun will not be available for either of the matches against Croatia or Greece. Yossi’s goal scoring threat will certainly be missed, but it may come with a silver lining. For too long Israel has been over dependent on Yossi and this has been detrimental to Israel being a successful team. Luis Fernandez came in saying that he wanted offensive football, but soon changed his tune against an average to mediocre Georgia side. Now is his chance to prove that he really wants to shake things up and put Israel on a new direction for success. Fernandez quickly learned in his coaching debut that Yoav Ziv and Klemi Saban are not that answer for the fullback position, easily the biggest weakness on Israel’s team. However his experiment with Dedi Ben-Dayan and Dani Bondarv have been mixed as both players really lack the pace and physicality to help Israel succeed at the international level. Thankfully, I have an answer that may surprise some of you. Israel does have two players that are fast, physical, and have good on the ball skills. Those two players are Ben Sahar and Muhammad Ghadir. Both players have struggled to learn the technical aspects of the forward position and often make mistakes in those positions. Sahar who in my opinion is a natural winger looks uncomfortable at times at the forward position and would make an excellent left-back. Imagine Maor Buzaglo on the wing and Ben Sahar overlapping, the possiblities are endless. Muhammad Ghadir is extremely fast and could also be a great asset for the National Team as well. His temper has been a problem before, but with the right coaching he could succeed in that position as well. A change of position would offer a fresh start for both players and the National Team.