One of the biggest dilemmas Israel coach Eli Gutman faces ahead of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign is regarding the identity of his number one goalkeeper.
Gutman didn’t name the 36-year-old Dudu Aouate in the squad for Wednesday’s friendly against Slovakia in Netanya after he lost his place in goal for Mallorca, making just five appearances so far this season for the Spanish second division club.
Gutman called up Guy Haimov of Ironi Kiryat Shmona, Ofir Martziano of Ashdod SC and Beitar Jerusalem’s Ariel Harush, who is the favorite to start against Slovakia and to also inherit Aouate on a full-time basis, although the coach hasn’t ruled out recalling Aouate, who started every one of Israel’s qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup, Euro 2012 and the 2010 World Cup.
“This will be the first test for the new squad,” Harush said on Monday before the team held its first training session ahead of Wednesday’s friendly. “The Slovakia match will be a good preparation for our campaign and especially for the qualifiers against Wales and Bosnia. We will face a real challenge against Slovakia.”
Harush sounded hopeful of stepping into Aouate’s boots, as well as regarding the blue-and-white chances of reaching the European Championships in France.
“Everything depends on me and I must prove that I deserve to be the starting ‘keeper,” added Harush. “I learned a lot from Aouate and I want to show that he has a deserving successor. We were handed a very tough qualifying group, but we have the option of progressing from third place and that is where we ended our recent campaigns. Hopefully we will do our talking on the pitch this time.”
Israel was drawn to face Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, Wales, Cyprus and Andorra in Group B, with the qualifiers to be played from September 7 until October 13, 2015.
For the first time in the tournament’s history, the European Championships, to be held in France, will involve 24 nations, eight more than previous events.
Therefore, the top two teams in each group will automatically advance to Euro 2016, with the best third-placed finisher to also gain direct qualification.
The remaining eight third-placed teams will take part in play-offs during November 2015.
Defender Eitan Tibi will miss the match against Slovakia after suffering a muscle strain in Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 2-0 victory over Hapoel Ra’anana on Sunday. Veteran defender Tal Ben-Haim was called up in his place despite making just eight Belgian league appearances for Standard Liege this season, the last of which in December.
In other soccer news, Hapoel Haifa beat Bnei Sakhnin 2-0 at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Monday to close to within just three points of its opponent and sixth place.
After scoring just a single goal in his first 107 appearances for Haifa, Hisham Kiwan found the back of the net twice within eight minutes (46, 53) to secure Haifa its first victory in 2014, snapping an eight-match winless streak.
The victory boosted Haifa’s hopes of leapfrogging Sakhnin, which has won only one of its past nine contests, into sixth place and sneaking into the championship playoffs, with each team having two regular season games remaining.