Israeli national soccer team meets during practice.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Israel coach Elisha Levy’s mind is all but made up regarding nine of the 11 players who will form the national team’s lineup for Monday’s 2018 World Cup qualifying opener against Italy in Haifa.
Israel is aiming to open its campaign with a stunning upset of Italy, with the Italians last losing a qualifying match 10 years ago, a 50-game unbeaten streak.
Levy seems set to continue with Hapoel Beersheba goalkeeper Dudu Goresh in goal, with Shir Tzedek of Beersheba and Eitan Tibi of Maccabi Tel Aviv likely to team up in the center of the defense. Ofir Davidzada, who left Beersheba for Gent in Belgium last week, will start at left-back, while Ben Bitton of Beersheba and Eli Dasa of Maccabi are battling it out to play at right-back.
Nir Bitton of Celtic, Beram Kayal, who plays for English Championship side Brighton & Hove Albion, and Eyal Golasa of Maccabi are expected to start the match in the middle of the field, although the latter still needs to prove his fitness in Sunday’s final training session after resting on Saturday due to a thigh strain.
Omer Atzili, who last week left Beitar Jerusalem for Granada CF of La Liga, is set to make his debut as an attacking midfielder, with captain Eran Zahavi certain to start as usual in his first match in Israel since moving to Guangzhou R&F in China from Maccabi Tel Aviv in late June. Zahavi’s former teammate at Maccabi, Tal Ben-Haim, is likely to join him in the lineup, although Levy is also considering playing with another striker in Tomer Hemed.
Italy was beaten 3-1 by France in a friendly on Thursday in what was new coach Giampiero Ventura’s first match in charge.
Italy’s last loss in a qualifier came back on September 6, 2006, with two Sidney Govou goals and one by Thierry Henry giving France the win, “We will analyse the mistakes we made against France, which were big and not normal for our great defenders,” Ventura said on Thursday.
“I can be happy with such a determined performance but just by avoiding those big mistakes, we can do even better. With all respect, Israel is not France and I’m sure we can have a very good performance there.”
Ventura, who had only three days to work with his squad, made few tactical changes to the team he inherited from Antonio Conte which reached the Euro 2016 quarterfinals, beating reigning champion Spain on the way.
Seventeen-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma became the youngest goalkeeper to play for Italy against France.
The AC Milan goalkeeper, also the youngest player to be picked in any position for 105 years, was a halftime substitute for 38-yearold Gianluigi Buffon, himself Italy’s most capped player who was making his 162nd appearance.
“Buffon told me to stay calm, do what I know and to have fun,” said Donnarumma, who is expected to be on the bench in Haifa. “I can’t describe it. I want to thank the coach for this opportunity and my debut. I am quite emotional about it.”Reuters contributed to this report