Israel coach Eli Gutman admitted on Monday that he is pleased the national team’s Euro 2016 qualifying opener against Belgium was postponed as the blue-and-white is still not ready for such a tough test.
The national team was scheduled to host Belgium in its Group B opener on September 9 at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, but the match was moved last week to March 31, 2015 because of the security situation.
Due to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the encounter was set to be relocated to Cyprus. However, the Israel Football Association asked the Belgian FA to postpone the match instead, and the Belgians agreed in a sporting gesture.
Israel’s friendly match against world champion Germany, which was set for March 25, will now be played at a later date, with the blueand- white to also host Wales in a qualifier in Haifa on March 28.
Following last week’s decision, Israel will open its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign at Cyprus on October 10, but Gutman still insisted on holding a three-day training camp with his squad in Shefayim this week.
The blue-and-white will also play a friendly match against Ashdod SC at the Yud-Alef Stadium in Ashdod at the end of the camp on Wednesday.
Entry will be free of charge.
“This is our way to show our support for the South,” said Gutman on Monday before adding that he is quite pleased that his team will not have to play Belgium next week.
“Belgium is an amazing team. I’m happy the match isn’t taking place on September 9, especially as it was set to go ahead in Cyprus.”
Gutman claimed he is optimistic Israel can reach Euro 2016 and qualify for a major tournament for the first time since 1970.
“I think every coach begins a campaign with a positive mindset,” said Gutman. “We want to qualify and I will be delighted if we manage to do so from second place. However, our target is to reach the playoffs from third place and try and qualify that way.”
Gutman said he is already drilling his players on the Cypriot national team, even though the match is still one month away.
“It was very important for me to hold this camp as I wanted to be with the players once more,” said Gutman. “There still might be one more month to go until our first qualifier, but I want the players to already begin to prepare for that match.”
Gutman named a 27-man squad for the camp, but striker Toto Tamuz was released due to injury and Yossi Benayoun and Tomer Hemed will only join the rest of the team on Tuesday after they took part in the Interreligious “Match for Peace” at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Monday night.
The exhibition involved players of today and past years, representing different cultures and religions: Buddhist, Christian (Catholic, Protestant, Evangelic), Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Shinto. All the proceeds of the event – which was organized by Scholas Occurrentes (a public educational entity driven by Pope Francis) and Fondazione PUPI (a foundation set up by former player Javier Zanetti) – will go to the project “Un’Alternativa di Vita”, which aims to benefit the children of Buenos Aires.
The new coach of the Argentina national team Gerardo “Tata” Martino and the manager of Arsenal, Arsene Wenger, selected both sides, which were coached by Zanetti and Gianluigi Buffon. Among those who participated were Andrea Pirlo, Andriy Shevchenko, Roberto Baggio, Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o, with Benayoun, Hemed and the recently retired Dudu Aouate representing Israel.