beckham ap 298.
(photo credit: AP)
Israel will face England in an official match for the first time, after being drawn to play together in Group E of the qualifying round of the 2008 European soccer championships.
The blue-and-white squad, coached for the first time by Dror Kashtan, will also battle Croatia, Russia, Estonia, Macedonia and Andorra for qualification for Euro 2008, which will take place in Switzerland and Austria.
The first match of the campaign will take place in August 2006. Representatives of all the teams will meet next month do make up the schedule.
Kashtan and Israel Football Association chairman Itche Menahem attended the draw in Switzerland.
"England is the strongest team in the group," said Kashtan after the draw. "It's [England] the birth place of soccer and this will be the first time we have faced them in an official match," he added.
"Russia and Croatia are also very strong teams. The rest of the teams are very interesting as we've never faced any of them in an official match before."
Menahem added, "It's a pretty good draw. If you look at the six other groups, you can say it's a reasonable draw, but definitely not an easy one. It's a very attractive draw and the fans in Israel are in for a treat."
The system for qualification has changed with all the teams finishing in first or second in the group automatically qualifying.
Israel will face an England team without coach Sven-Goran Eriksson after the Swede announced last week that he would be leaving his post following the World Cup this summer.
"I think England should be happy with the draw. There are groups much more difficult than the England group, so I think it's very good," the England coach told Sky Sports. "Israel are coming [and improving] but all the small football nations are becoming better and better. I remember playing Macedonia and everyone thought it was an easy game but we drew 2-2.
"It's never easy, it shouldn't be at that level but I think the England fans and man coming after me will be happy with this draw."
Israel fans will be delighted with the opportunity to watch David Beckham and Wayne Rooney in Ramat Gan and will already be looking forward to following the blue-and-white to the new Wembley Stadium.
Croatia, tipped to make an impact at the World Cup this summer, is not the most difficult team Israel could have got from the second level, but is a tough and strong team that is on the rise.
Contrary to the Croatians, Russia is at an all-time low. The Russians will hope to rebound from a disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign and make a serious run at qualification.
Israel will also face Macedonia, Estonia and Andorra for the first time. If Israel is to have any kind of chance of qualifying, it will need to beat all three of the teams home and away.