Interim coach Alon Hazan (right) and midfielder Eran Levy (left).
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Israel hosts Romania in an international friendly in Netanya on Saturday night, but the outcome of the match will be nowhere near as significant as that of a meeting to be held at Israel Football Association headquarters in Ramat Gan next week.
The blue-and-white doesn’t open its next qualifying campaign – for the UEFA Nations League – for almost six months and the team has been without a head coach since Elisha Levy’s contract wasn’t renewed last November following the end of the disappointing World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign.
Israel under-19 national team coach Alon Hazan was asked to take charge of the squad for the game with Romania, but he isn’t going to be one of the candidates to fill the role on a full-time basis.
Following the national team’s recent dejecting campaigns, the IFA decided to first set up a four-man committee, composed of Beitar Jerusalem boss and former national team player Eli Ohana, former Israel midfielder Haim Revivo, Dr. Itzik Ben Melech, one of the founders of Israel’s Elite Sport Department and Levy’s predecessor, Eli Gutman, to examine the reasons behind the blue-and-white’s consistent failures.
Among the committee’s main recommendations that were approved, the IFA will appoint a technical director to overlook all of Israel’s national teams.
It also recommended that the next head coach will have experience guiding a team at an international level, which seems likely to give Hapoel Haifa’s Nir Klinger, who has coached Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Champions League as well as in Cyprus, an edge over Bnei Yehuda coach Yossi Abuksis, with the two believed to be the current favorites to replace Levy.
The IFA wants to appoint the next coach by May as it is planning on holding a training session for the squad at the end of the month, with the blue-and-white to also face Argentina in a friendly on June 9.
Israel’s next meaningful match doesn’t come until September 7 when it begins its UEFA Nations League Group Four League C campaign at Albania. The blue-and-white will visit Northern Ireland in a friendly four days later, with the national side’s first home match against Scotland in the new competition to be held at Haifa Stadium on October 11. Israel hosts Albania in Beersheba on October 14, with the campaign to come to a close in Scotland on November 20.
Although the new competition is played in addition to the European Championship qualifiers, which start in March 2019, it provides a back door to Euro 2020, with one team from each league earning a place at UEFA’s flagship tournament.
In each league, the four group winners enter a playoff system, consisting of two semifinals and a final. The ultimate winner will qualify for Euro 2020.
In the meantime, Hazan has decided to use the match versus Romania to hand players their first opportunity with the blue-and-white.
No fewer than 10 of the 22 players who assembled for Wednesday’s opening training session have never played for the national team, meaning there are set to be numerous debutants in Netanya on Saturday, including the likes of Dor Micha and Eran Levy.
The starting lineup is set to include Ariel Harush in goal, with the back four to consist of Ben Bitton, Eitan Tibi, Taleb Tawatha and Loai Taha, who would be making his first appearance. Bibras Natcho, Beram Kayal and Maor Melikson are expected to be among the starting midfielders, with Micha or Hanan Maman to join them. Hazan remains undecided regarding whether to start with one or two strikers.