Omer Damari was included in the Israel squad for the Euro 2016 qualifiers against Cyprus and Andorra.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Yossi Benayoun and Eden Ben-Basat were the two biggest names missing from Israel coach Eli Gutman’s 25-man squad called up on Tuesday for the upcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers against Cyprus and Andorra.
Following the postponement of the national team’s first qualifier against Belgium from September 9 to March 31, 2015, Israel will begin its campaign in Nicosia next Friday before visiting Andorra three days later.
The 34-year-old Benayoun made his 95th appearance for Israel against Mexico in May, breaking the national team record. He was also called up to the three-day training camp in Shefayim last month, which seemed to indicate that Gutman plans to use him in Euro 2016 qualifying.
Benayoun returned earlier than expected from a partial tear in his right knee ligaments on Sunday, starting in Maccabi Haifa’s 3-1 victory over Hapoel Petah Tikva. However, Gutman still chose to drop the national team’s long-time captain, calling up in-form players instead.
Ben-Basat paid the price for his disappointing start at Maccabi Tel Aviv after not even featuring in the yellow-andblue’s first two Premier League matches of the season before looking rusty in Monday’s 3-2 defeat at Hapoel Beersheba.
Ben-Basat scored six goals for Israel in 2014 World Cup qualifying and was arguably the team’s best player. However, with plenty of other options up front, Gutman decided instead to call-up the likes of Toto Tamuz, Ben Sahar and Munas Dabbur, who have been playing well with their respective teams abroad.
Tamuz hasn’t played for the national team since October 2007, but has been on fire at Romanian club Petrolul Ploiesti since the start of the season, scoring his eighth goal in as many league matches this past weekend.
The squad will meet up at Shefayim on Wednesday, with the players based in Europe to join up with the team next week.
Considering the lineups he used in the past and the squad he called up on Tuesday, Gutman has probably already penciled in most of his starting 11 for the match versus Cyprus.
Eitan Tibi and Tal Ben-Haim seem all but certain to start in the center of the defense once more, while Gili Vermut, Eran Zahavi, Bibras Natcho and Shiran Yeini are likely to form the midfield.
After already scoring five league goals for Austria Wien since his move in the summer, striker Omer Damari looks set to start against Cyprus, with Tomer Hemed or Tamuz his likely partners.
Rami Gershon, Taleb Tawatha and Omri Ben-Harush are battling for the starting role at left-back, with Avi Rikan and Eyal Meshumar the favorites to start at right-back.
Gutman’s biggest headache is who to start in the goalkeeper’s position.
Since the retirement of Dudu Aouate, who started every one of Israel’s qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup, Euro 2012 and the 2010 World Cup, there has been a gaping hole between the posts.
Ariel Harush, who moved from Beitar Jerusalem to Maccabi Netanya this summer, was selected by Gutman to succeed Aouate as the blue-and-white’s new number one ’keeper, but he hasn’t done enough in the team’s recent friendlies to cement a starting role.
As a result, Ironi Kiryat Shmona’s Guy Haimov and Ashdod SC’s Ofir Martziano will enter Wednesday’s training session knowing they have every chance of starting for the blue-and-white come next Friday.
Israel will leave for Cyprus next Tuesday and will fly to Andorra following Friday’s qualifier in Nicosia. Cyprus stunned Bosnia 2-1 on the road in its first qualifier last month, while Andorra was only barely beaten 2-1 by Wales.