So desperate is the Israel national team’s situation at the moment that even
Friday’s 2014 World Cup qualifier at Luxembourg is being regarded as a daunting
Luxembourg has certainly shown progress in recent years,
winning one match in each of its last three qualifying campaigns after going
five consecutive campaigns without picking up a single point, losing 56 straight
qualifiers at one stage.
Luxembourg has also already made its mark in the
current campaign, stretching Portugal’s nerves before falling to a 2-1 defeat
and recording a surprise 1-1 draw at Northern Ireland.
However, it is
Israel’s dismal performances in its first two qualifiers that make Luxembourg a
real threat for the blue-and-white.
The 1-1 draw at Azerbaijan and
especially the 4-0 home humbling at the hands of Russia did not only end any
meager hope Israel had of reaching a first major tournament since 1970, but also
shattered the team’s confidence to such an extent that matches which were once a
foregone conclusion now seem like an uphill battle.
“We are taking our
opponent very seriously,” said Gutman.
“Luxembourg plays with a 4-3- 3
formation and has an excellent midfielder in Ben Payal, with the striker
Aurelien Joachim also a real handful.”
Only five of Luxembourg’s players
are full professionals and Gutman clearly understands that there will be no
excuse for a failure on Friday.
“We need to move the ball patiently and
make sure we pressure our opponent,” he explained. “The most important thing is
that our play will be methodical and not coincidental.”
disappointing start to the campaign, Gutman decided to overhaul his squad ahead
of the two matches against Luxembourg, with the blue-and-white to host the group
minnows next Tuesday.
Gutman decided to only call up players who appear
regularly for their club sides, meaning captain Yossi Benayoun (West Ham
United), Tal Ben-Haim (without a club), Itay Shechter (Swansea City), Ben Sahar
(Hertha Berlin) and Almog Cohen (Nuremberg) were all axed.
new captain Dudu Aouate is confident that those who will play on Friday are more
than good enough to get the job done.
“We don’t take any opponent lightly
and our goal is to look like a team and win,” he said. “However, there is no
reason to be getting stressed about this match. “We disappointed everyone
at the start of the campaign, but I believe that things will get a lot better
from here on.”