The Israel squad made its final preparations for tonight’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Andorra yesterday, with (from left) Tomer Hemed, Bibras Natcho, Omri Ben-Harush, and Beram Kayal all vying for a starting role at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Israel may still have its fate in its own hands, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the blue-and- white will either need to record a stunning upset or receive a helping hand from elsewhere to finish in third place in Group B and advance to the Euro 2016 qualifying playoffs.
Even though each team in the group has just three more matches to play until the end of the campaign, nothing has been decided.
However, while Israel knows that it can still secure automatic qualification by winning its final three games, even the blue-and- white’s most optimistic fan doesn’t really believe the national team is capable of overcoming both Wales and Belgium on the road, as well as beating Cyprus at home.
Israel’s realistic goal is to end the group in third place and then hope to qualify for the European Championships via the playoffs.
However, in order to do that and not require any favors from other teams, it will not only need to beat Cyprus at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on October 10, but to also pick up at least two points from the matches against Wales in Cardiff on Sunday and versus Belgium in Brussels on October 13.Despite sitting four points back of Israel, Bosnia still looks to be the blue-and-white’s main rival for third place. Israel crucially holds the tiebreaker against Bosnia, winning 3-0 at home while losing 3-1 on the road. As a result, should the Bosnians pick up all nine points from their remaining three matches, Eli Gutman’s men will require five more points to hold on to third place.
While Israel still faces road encounters with the group leaders, Bosnia has yet to play Andorra and Cyprus at home, while also hosting Wales on October 10.
Wales can already secure its progress by beating Israel on Sunday, leaving it with nothing to play for in Zenica.
Israel’s 4-0 win over Andorra in Haifa on Thursday moved it to 12 points, three ahead of Cyprus and four in front of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Wales leads the group with 17 points after beating Cyprus 1-0 on Thursday, while Belgium is three points back following its 3-1 victory over Bosnia.
The top two and the best thirdplaced team from the nine qualifying groups advance automatically to the finals in France, with the remaining eight third-placed sides to play a home-and-away playoff for four berths.
Israel will be desperate to at least register a draw in Cardiff, with a loss to Wales leaving the blue-and-white requiring an unlikely victory in Brussels, as well as a win over Cyprus, to secure third position, assuming Bosnia doesn’t slip up.
However, Cardiff City Stadium will be packed with 33,000 fans ready to celebrate on Sunday, with the hosts just needing one more win to qualify for their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup.
“We know how difficult it’s going to be and all we have to think about is Israel, how we are going to perform first and foremost,” said Wales coach Chris Coleman, whose team beat Israel 3-0 in Haifa in March. “It’s going to be a tough, tough game, for both teams. It’s going to be one of those games where it’s going to be tight and we’ve got to keep doing what we’ve been doing and not get caught up in the occasion.”
Israel coach Gutman will make several changes to the lineup which beat Andorra, with defender Avi Rikan out injured.
His Maccabi Tel Aviv teammate Omri Ben-Harush is set to replace him, with Eyal Meshumar likely to play instead of Eli Dasa at right-back.
Striker Tomer Hemed and winger Tal Ben-Haim are expected to lose their places to defender Orel Dgani and midfielder Beram Kayal as Gutman looks to strengthen his defense.
“Our target is to finish in third place and in order to close in on that goal we need to do something special in Cardiff,” said Gutman.
“I’ve never entered a match aiming to finish in a draw. We are ready for the match against Wales and the players know how we will play. I don’t think Wales will be under any special pressure and I feel that our players will benefit from the great atmosphere in the stadium. Our players know that they will have to excel in order to claim a good result.”