Israel completes preparations for game against Belgium.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Israel national team hopes its prayers will be answered when it faces Belgium in Euro 2016 qualifying action at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on Tuesday night after visiting the Western Wall as part of its prematch preparations on Monday.
The blue-and-white enters the showdown against the Group B favorite on the back of a humbling 3-0 setback against Wales in Haifa on Saturday.
The defeat to Wales ended Israel’s perfect start to the campaign and the team’s incompetent performance raised many questions regarding its aspirations to qualify for a first major tournament since the 1970 World Cup.
Israel’s credentials will face an even sterner test against Belgium, which reached the World Cup quarterfinals last year and boasts a star-studded lineup packed with players from the world’s best clubs.
Belgium, which thrashed Cyprus 5-0 on Saturday, has one of Europe’s top ’keepers in Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois, with Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany, Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini, Wolfsburg midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard just a few of the big names on Marc Wilmots’s squad.
“Belgium usually plays with the same system and we will have to stick to our game-plan,” said Israel coach Eli Gutman, who insisted he wasn’t perturbed by the criticism leveled at him following the loss to Wales. “Belgium is ranked No. 4 in the world and we will be a clear underdog.”
Gutman claimed he hoped Israel would have 10 points at the midway point of the campaign, a target the blue-and-white will reach with a draw on Tuesday.
“I think that 20 points will be enough to advance,” he explained. “This is not the time to sum up our campaign.”
Gutman is expected to ring the changes for the showdown with Belgium, with top-scorer Omer Damari to miss the match with a groin injury that he picked up on Saturday and defender Eitan Tibi suspended after being sent off against Wales.
Tomer Hemed, who came in for Damari just before halftime, is expected to start in his place on Tuesday, with Gent defender Rami Gershon set to fill the void left by Tibi. Gutman is also likely to make two changes in the midfield, with Ben Sahar and Nir Biton set to replace winger Tal Ben- Haim and Lior Refaelov.
Biton remains a doubt for the game after picking up an injury against Wales and Biram Kayal could start should the Celtic midfielder fail to recover in time. The inclusion of either Biton or Kayal means Gutman has decided to strengthen his team’s presence in the center of the field by adding another player to play alongside Sheran Yeini and Bibras Natcho.
The rest of the lineup is expected to remain unchanged, with Ofir Martziano to start in goal, captain Tal Ben-Haim to continue in the center of the defense, while Orel Dgani will play at right-back and Omri Ben-Harush on the left.
Eran Zahavi will also start once more, but will play off the flank rather than in the center of the field.
“Israel is an injured beast and that makes this a very dangerous time for us to face them,” said Wilmots. “We are not the favorites. You can’t be a favorite in a road game like this against a team like Israel.
After 10-15 minutes we will be able to see in which direction the match is heading and if it will be similar or different to their match against Wales.”