(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
With the search for the next Israel national team coach not yet underway, the Israel Football Association announced on Friday that under-17 national coach Alon Hazan will guide the blue-and-white in the friendly match against Croatia in Osijek on March 23.
Israel will be playing for the first time since its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign ended in bitter disappointment last October. Eli Gutman’s four-year tenure as Israel coach officially came to an end one day after the blue-and-white capped its campaign with a 3-1 loss in Belgium to finish Group B in fourth place.
Gutman’s departure was widely expected following the side’s failure to reach the playoffs, with Israel picking up just four of a possible 21 points from its final seven qualifiers.
Israel Football Association chairman Ofer Eini said at the time that he will not rush to name a new coach, but the search is only set to get underway this week, more than four months later.
The national team doesn’t play its first World Cup 2018 qualifier until September 5 when it hosts Italy. Israel’s hopes of reaching the tournament for the first time since 1970 were already all but dashed after being paired with former champions Spain and Italy in qualifying Group G.
Only the winners of each group will qualify automatically, with the eight best runners-up to advance to home-and-away playoffs.
Israel will also face Albania, Macedonia and Liechtenstein.
Elisha Levy, Guy Luzon and Ran Ben-Shimon are the current favorites to ultimately succeed Gutman, with the IFA having relatively meager funds to pay its next coach, all but ruling out a foreign recruit.
In the meantime, Hazan will take charge of the team for the match against Croatia.
“I’m always proud to help the Israel national team, even if it is only for one match,” said Hazan. “As a former player for the national team I’m proud to serve the country again. I hope that we will all do everything possible in order to display a good match against a high quality European team.”