Israel's national team coach Eli Gutman.
(photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
The Israel national team will leave for Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina on Wednesday, three days before it faces the hosts in a crucial Euro 2016 qualifier.
After a three-day training camp in Stegersbach, Austria, the blue-and-white should be ready and relaxed ahead of the final stretch of its build-up for a match which could make or break its qualifying campaign.
Israel currently sits in third place in Group B with nine points after losing twice over four days in March to Belgium and Wales, who lead the group at the midway point with 11 points each.
Bosnia is in a disappointing fifth place with five points from five matches. The top two in each group qualify automatically along with the best third-place finisher, while the remaining eight third-place teams go into a home-and-away playoff.
Israel beat Bosnia 3-0 in Haifa last November and anything but a defeat in Zenica would leave it well placed to finish at least in third place.
Maccabi’s Dor Micha and Beitar Jerusalem’s Shlomi Azulay were both handed their first call-ups by Eli Gutman, with the coach making four changes in total to the 25-man squad which faced Wales and Belgium.
Lior Refaelov is out through suspension, Munas Dabbur is missing due to injury, while Itay Shechter and Taleb Tawatha were dropped in favor of Avi Rikan and Shir Tzedek. Azulay was ultimately released from the squad due to injury.
Gutman closed Tuesday’s training session to the media, but the early indications are that he plans to use a very similar lineup to the one which faced Belgium.
Ofir Martziano is set to continue in goal, with the back-four of Omri Ben-Harush, Rami Gershon, Tal Ben-Haim and Orel Dgani also likely to remain unchanged. Nir Biton, Sheran Yeini and Bebras Natcho are expected to continue in the center of the field, with Eran Zahavi guaranteed his place in the starting 11 as long as he is healthy.
Israel’s top scorer in the campaign Omer Damari, who missed the match with Belgium due to injury, is the favorite to start up front, while the final spot in the lineup looks set to go to either Tal Ben-Haim, who started in the team’s first four qualifiers, or Ben Sahar, who impressed in the most recent encounter with Belgium.
“You can see how important this match is simply by glancing at the standings,” said Natcho. “But if we start thinking that this is a do-or-die qualifier we will put ourselves under pressure and that is not good. We need to be focused and remain humble. Before the match against Wales we thought that if we win we will already be in Euro 2016. That was our mistake and we need to make up for it.”