Crucial home qualifier for blue-and-white

Coming off three straight defeats, Israel hosts last-place Andorra in Haifa to kick off final Euro 2016 push.

September 3, 2015 04:54
2 minute read.
The Israel squad Euro 2016

The Israel squad made its final preparations for tonight’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Andorra yesterday, with (from left) Tomer Hemed, Bibras Natcho, Omri Ben-Harush, and Beram Kayal all vying for a starting role at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa.. (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)

Israel must return to winning ways to maintain its hopes of qualifying for Euro 2016 on Thursday when it hosts Andorra at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa.

After opening its campaign with three consecutive victories, the national team has lost three straight matches to fall into a tie for third place.

With Andorra losing all six of its games to date by a combined goal difference of 3-23, the blue-and-white is not expected to encounter too much trouble on the way to three points on Thursday.

Israel currently sits in third place in Group B with nine points from six matches, tied with Cyprus, and one point ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Wales leads the way with 14 points, three points in front of Belgium. The top two and the best third-placed team from the nine qualifying groups advance automatically to the finals in France, with the remaining eight thirdplaced sides to play a home-and-away playoff for four berths.

Three days after facing minnow Andorra, which lost 4-1 to Israel at home last October, the blue-and-white visits Wales on Sunday. On October 10, Israel welcomes Cyprus before completing its qualifying campaign at Belgium three days later.

The blue-and-white will likely need to draw at least one of the matches in Wales or Belgium to finish in third place and book a playoff berth. However, that is only relevant should Israel also beat both Andorra and Cyprus at home, something coach Eli Gutman is not taking for granted.

“I’m very pleased with the attitude of the players. They are treating this match seriously and understand its importance,” said Gutman on Wednesday. “As soon as you witness such an attitude you know they understand that there is no such thing as a walk in the park in international soccer.”

Ofir Martziano will start in goal once more for Israel, while the back-four is set to consist only of Maccabi Tel Aviv players.

Eli Dasa and Avi Rikan will play on the right and left sides of the defense, respectively, while Tal Ben-Haim and Eitan Tibi will start in the center.

Nir Biton and Bibras Natcho will play in the center of the field, with Maccabi teammates Eran Zahavi and Tal Ben-Haim to push forward from the midfield. In-form strikers Munas Dabbur and Tomer Hemed will start up-front.

Dabbur has scored seven goals and registered seven assists in eight matches for Swiss club Grasshoppers so far this season, while Hemed netted twice in Brighton’s 3-2 victory over Ipswich in the English Championship on Saturday.

“We know that there is no longer such a thing as an easy internationals,” said defender Tal Ben-Haim. “We prepared for Andorra just as we did for Belgium, Wales and Bosnia. We know everything about them.”

Also Thursday, Belgium hosts Bosnia- Herzegovina and Wales visits Cyprus.

Wales can secure its qualification as early as Sunday should it beat Cyprus and Israel.

“We’re all buzzing and want to do well for our country, but we are not thinking of qualifying yet,” said goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, who is hoping to win his 50th cap on Thursday. “Cyprus were good last time and this match will be tough. The job is not done yet. But it’s in our hands and hopefully we can get it done.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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