Striker Tomer Hemed.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
After having his decisions questioned by players time and again, Israel national team coach Elisha Levy decided to take a stand on Monday, suspending striker Tomer Hemed and goalkeeper Ariel Harush for the blue-and-white’s next two matches, meaning they will not play for the team again until at least September.
Hemed and Harush, who will miss the June 11 qualifier against Albania in Haifa, as well as the friendly against Moldova five days earlier, aired their frustrations in interviews published in Yedioth Aharonoth over the past couple of days, being angered by Levy’s decision not to include them in the starting lineup for Friday’s 2018 World Cup qualifier in Spain.
“In the last 48 hours two national team players, Ariel Harush and Tomer Hemed, have allowed themselves to voice criticism publicly, displaying their frustration while also criticizing the coaching staff and their teammates in an inappropriate manner, hurting the squad’s cohesiveness,” said Levy in a statement.
“Players who don’t dare to even voice the slightest criticism at their clubs, should be doubly careful at doing so with the national team. I have made clear that any inappropriate behavior will be treated with the necessary decisions.”
Hemed started and scored in the qualifiers against Liechtenstein and Macedonia, but was dropped from the team for the match in Albania and was unwilling to accept the fact that he came on as a substitute once more against Spain.
“I don’t care what the reason is, I must be a starter for Israel,” said the Brighton striker. “Something here doesn’t make sense. I have to be the team’s number one striker.”
With goalkeeper Dudu Goresh, who started in the blue-and-white’s first four qualifiers, being suspended for the match in Spain, Harush was upset at Levy’s decision to play with Ofir Marciano in goal.
“I don’t understand why Levy didn’t start with me. I’m in excellent shape and I deserved to play,” said the Hapoel Tel Aviv goalkeeper.
“To hear that you are not starting in a match like this is like being stabbed in the heart. I told Elisha that I am disappointed in him. I’m the only one of the squad’s goalkeepers who has never been given a chance in an official qualifier. Someone has always come and ruined my dream at the last moment.”
Levy later explained his decision in an interview with Army Radio.
“I expect professional players to know how to conduct themselves even if they aren’t playing,” said Levy.
“Hemed is a great player, and that is why he is part of the squad, but that doesn’t mean that he has to play in every match.
“We have three good goalkeepers and we decided to start with Marciano because of his international experience,” added Levy. “We lose as a team and we win as a team.”
Despite the 4-1 defeat in Spain, Israel is still well placed to finish in third place in Group G. Spain is top of the group with 13 points from five games, ahead of Italy on goal difference. Israel is third on nine points, three ahead of Albania.
Only the winners of each group will qualify automatically for Russia 2018, while the eight best runners-up will advance to home-and-away playoffs.
A third-place finish could help Israel improve its seeding ahead of Euro 2020 qualifying.