Blue-and-white realistic heading into Spain showdown

Only the winners of each group will qualify automatically for Russia 2018, with the eight best runners-up to advance to home-and-away playoffs.

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March 23, 2017 01:00
2 minute read.
While Israel coach Elisha Levy has yet to make a final decision regarding his starting lineup for Fr

While Israel coach Elisha Levy has yet to make a final decision regarding his starting lineup for Friday’s 2018 World Cup qualifier in Spain, there is no doubt Eran Zahavi will be captaining the side yet again. (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)

The Israel national team arrived in Gijon on Wednesday, as coach Elisha Levy continued to ponder his options for the starting lineup for Friday’s 2018 World Cup qualifier against Spain.

Israel enters the encounter just a single point behind Spain and Italy in Group G, picking up nine of a possible 12 points from four matches, beating Macedonia, Liechtenstein and Albania, while losing to Italy.

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Only the winners of each group will qualify automatically for Russia 2018, with the eight best runners-up to advance to home-and-away playoffs.

Since discovering who it would be facing in the group back in July 2015, it was clear that Israel’s realistic goal is to finish in third place.

The blue-and-white is well placed to do that, with Albania and Macedonia still to visit the Holy Land.

A third-place finish can help Israel improve its seeding ahead of Euro 2020 qualification.

Midfielder Beram Kayal, who seemed likely to start on Friday, was released from the squad on Wednesday due to illness.



Levy is expected to use a similar lineup to the one that beat Albania 3-0 in the team’s most recent qualifier last November.

The blue-and-white had been far from impressive in its campaign until the win in Albania. It faces a challenge of a completely different magnitude in Gijon though, especially with Spain desperate for all three points in its battle with Italy for first place.

The back-four of Eli Dasa, Shir Tzedek, Eitan Tibi and Rami Gershon is likely to start again, with Almog Cohen and Bibras Natcho to play in the center of the field.

Forward Tal Ben-Haim and Eran Zahavi seem certain to start, leaving Levy with three dilemmas.

With goalkeeper Dudu Goresh, who started in the team’s first four qualifiers, being suspended, Levy is deliberating whether to use Hapoel Tel Aviv’s Ariel Harush or Hibernian’s Ofir Marciano.

Dan Einbinder, Sheran Yeini or Nir Bitton are the favorites to play alongside Cohen and Natcho in the midfield, while Lior Refaelov, Ben Sahar, Tomer Hemed and Itay Shechter are all in contention for the final attacking role.

“I have proven in the past that I can play at the highest levels, but the coach is the one who decides,” said Marciano.

“There is no need to talk about Spain as everyone knows they are one of the best teams in the world. But we mustn’t give up without a fight. We will give our all and do the best we can.”


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