Israel's national soccer team at practice.
(photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
Israel coach Eli Gutman looks to already have his mind set on the starting lineup he will use for the national team’s crucial Euro 2016 qualifier against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Haifa on Sunday.
After picking up six out of a possible six points from its first two qualifiers at Cyprus and Andorra, the blue-and-white can take a significant step towards qualification for its first major tournament since the 1970 World Cup with a victory over the Bosnians at the Sammy Ofer Stadium.
Israel began its preparations for the match on Tuesday and everything seems to be in place for Gutman’s men to continue their perfect start to the campaign in front of a sold out Ofer Stadium.
Bosnia, which made a group stage exit at the 2014 World Cup finals in June after reaching its first major tournament as an independent nation, has struggled so far. It has picked up just two points from three matches, and will be without several key players on Sunday, including star striker Edin Dzeko.
Bosnia coach Safet Susic has claimed that he will be “playing for a draw,” with his team to also be without injured midfielder Tino Sven Susic and Avdija Vrsajevic and long-term absentees striker Vedad Ibisevic, midfielder Sejad Salihovic and defender Sead Kolasinac.
Israel has no such injury concerns and many of Gutman’s star players will be entering the showdown in encouraging form.
After using 35 different players during the national team’s 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, the third most among the 53 national teams which played in the UEFA qualifying groups, Gutman is expected to once more stick to the same core of players he started in the team’s past two qualifiers and most recent friendly match in the summer.
The coach is likely to make only minor changes to the side which beat Cyprus and Andorra, with Sheran Yeini and Lior Refaelov to return to the starting 11.
After solid showings in his first two matches for the blue-and-white, Ashdod SC stopper Ofir Martziano will stand in goal, with Tal Ben-Haim and Eitan Tibi to continue their budding partnership in the center of the defense.
Omri Ben-Harush will play at left-back, with Eyal Meshumar to once more start on the right side of the back-four.
Yeini will step into the role of the holding midfielder, with Bibras Natcho to play just in front of him. Eran Zahavi, winger Tal Ben-Haim and Refaelov are expected to be in charge of pushing the team forward, with lone striker Omer Damari to yet again be the main man responsible for finishing off Israel’s attacks.
Refaelov, who came on as a substitute in Israel’s first two qualifiers, is likely to take the place of Gili Vermut thanks to his sensational form. The attacking midfielder scored a hat-trick in Club Brugge’s 4-0 Europa League win over FC Copenhagen last week before also setting up a goal in his team’s 5-0 victory over Westerlo in Belgian league action on Sunday.
Zahavi was suspended from Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Premier League match with Maccabi Netanya on Sunday for his part in the Tel Aviv derby brawl. However, he had previously scored eight goals in six matches.
Natcho has become one of CSKA Moscow’s most important players since joining in the summer.
He has scored so far eight goals in 14 matches, while also registering crucial assists, including two in his team’s 2-1 win at Manchester City in Champions League action last week.
Damari has also been all but unstoppable since signing with Austria Vienna, scoring nine goals in 13 matches, including two in Sunday’s 3-2 win over Rapid Vienna. The 25-year-old striker has also scored in each of Israel’s past three matches, netting four goals so far in Euro 2016 qualification following his hattrick versus Andorra.