ISRAEL FORWARD Eran Zahavi participates in a team training session ahead of the blue-and-white’s Euro 2020 qualifying opener tonight at home against Slovenia.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
The journey to Euro 202 is set to kick off, as Israel’s national team continues its preparations for its opening qualification matches against Slovenia and Austria, which will be held on Thursday and Sunday, respectively, at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa.
After Tuesday’s training session, the picture of the blue-and-white roster began to clear and it appears that there are 10 locked-up starting positions, with the only outstanding decision being at goalkeeper. The battle between Ariel Harush and Ofir Marciano is completely open and the starter will be decided after the team’s final training session.
On defense Louie Taha, Shiran Yeini and Omri Ben Harush will get the nod from coach Andreas Herzog. On the wings, Eli Dasa and Taleb Tawatha will be stationed again, while Herzog will continue with Beram Kayal, Dor Peretz and Bibras Natkho in the midfield. Eran Zahavi and Moanes Dabour will be the starting forwards.
Dabour, the star of Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg who will spend the summer in Sevilla, spoke this week about Israel’s upcoming games to open the qualifying campaign.
“I’m glad I’m in good shape for the national team,” said Dabour. “I have pressure, but positive pressure. You have to know how to cope with this pressure. As everyone knows, we are in a tough group. On the other hand we open with two home games and there is no rivalry from the top teams in the world. We have a chance. It is important to believe in ourselves. I believe that you can do beautiful things. “
Israel is in Group G with Austria Poland, Macedonia, Latvia and Slovenia.
Qualifying for Euro 2020 remains largely the same (with 24 finalists in all), although no team will gain automatic qualification as hosts (there are 12 host nations in all).
Like Euro 2016, the 24 teams will be drawn into six groups of four. The top two in each group and four best third-placed teams advance to the knockout phase.
The 55 potential teams were split into 10 groups of five or six. Four of the five groups of five contain one team that qualified for the UEFA Nations League finals (to be played in June). The top two from each group will qualify for the final tournament, determining the first 20 places.
The last four Euro places will be won through the play-offs, which will be contested by the 16 UEFA Nations League group winners (i.e. the four group winners in each of the four divisions). If a UEFA Nations League group winner has already qualified via the European Qualifiers, then its spot will go to the next best-ranked team in its league.
The 26-year-old Dabour also addressed the credit he has not receive in the past, with only 13 senior national team caps to his name.
“I can only say that I feel great right now in the national team. I get the credit I deserve. I would be very happy to score, but it does not matter whether it’s me or someone else, the most important thing we win. “
On his partnership with Zahavi at the front of the blue-and-white offense, Dabour said: “I very much hope we will score. We are good friends and get along well on the field. We have an excellent connection. The other team members are also excellent players who will help. We would be very happy if Eran and I can bring the full force of our ability to the national team.”
The Slovenians landed in Israel on Tuesday for Thursday’s match. Slovenia has not won in two-and-a-half years in an official away game and will now try to do so against the blue-white in order to open its qualifying campaign on the right foot.
Although the Slovenia team participated in the preliminary draw as a fourth-tier team, while Israel was considered a third-tier nation, it is still a team that includes several names of players who play regularly on Europe’s strongest teams.
Among the players who arrived in Israel are Josip Ilicic, Luka Zahovic, Maribor’s top scorer and son of legend Zlatko Zahovic, and of course Jan Oblak, the goalkeeper of Atletico Madrid who was absent from the Nations League qualifiers and returned for the current campaign. When Oblak landed in Israel, he was accompanied by two security guards.
Slovenia’s manager, Matjaz Kek, has yet to decide whether to award the captaincy to Oblak, who recently faced criticism in his home country after failing to appear in the Nations League, or Ilicic, who is considered to be very fond of Slovenia.
Kek was not interviewed at the airport, but before the flight he referred to Illich’s injury and said, “Josip got an unpleasant blow to his leg while he scored a goal. He has a undergone an extensive training regimen for the upcoming game against Israel to be able to play and he is ready.”
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