Israel gears up for pivotal qualifier weekend

Home contest against Great Britain and road match at Estonia both important for World Cup hopes

February 23, 2018 06:27
2 minute read.
Israel gears up for pivotal qualifier weekend

Israel guard Shawn Dawson (right) will have an important role to play in the national team’s upcoming 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifiers against Great Britain on Friday and at Estonia on Sunday. (photo credit: DANNY MARON)


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After splitting its first two games of 2019 FIBA World Cup qualification, Israel faces two contests over the next three days knowing anything but two wins would severely damage its hopes of contending for a place in the tournament.

Israel hosts Great Britain at the Drive-In Arena in Tel Aviv on Friday afternoon before visiting Estonia on Sunday night.

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The blue-and-white holds a 1-1 record in Group H, beating Estonia 88-68 in its opener in November before losing 82-61 at Greece three days later.

Qualification will run until February 2019, and Israel will have to come through 16 games to reach the tournament in China. Israel shouldn’t have too much trouble advancing to the second round, with three of the group’s four teams to progress.

However, with all results from the first qualification round to be carried over to the second round, the outcome of every game has added significance.

The top three in the second round, which will be comprised of four groups of six teams, will secure a berth in the World Cup.

Israel will end the first round with two more games in the summer, hosting Greece on June 29 and visiting Great Britain on July 2.

Israel coach Oded Katash has made several changes to the roster he called up in November, with Bar Timor and Oz Blayzer missing through injuries, Lior Eliyahu asking to be left out and Karam Mashour dropped due to his lack of playing time at Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Veterans Guy Pnini and Raviv Limonad return to the squad, with youngsters Nimrod Levy and Yovel Zoosman receiving their first call-ups. Richard Howell and Joe Alexander were both named in the roster, but only one of them will be able to play as each team is only allowed to use a single nationalized player.

Jake Cohen traveled with Maccabi Tel Aviv for Thursday’s Euroleague game at Unicaja Malaga, but will join the blue-and-white ahead of Sunday’s showdown with Estonia.

Great Britain has a 0-2 record, but its home defeat to Greece and loss on the road to Estonia both came by just three points. The Brits already arrived in Israel on Sunday and most of their players are based in Europe.

“We are facing two very tough and significant games,” said Israel coach Oded Katash. “We learned a lot from the first two games and we know how to better deal with this short and intense week.”

Katash also spoke about the difficulty of building the side around up-and-coming players.

“We would be really happy if there were more good young players and if we had more options,” he explained. “But I also need players with experience and that doesn’t mean we aren’t thinking forward.”

In the absence of Omri Casspi, who will only be able to join the team for its final two qualifiers after he completes the NBA season with the Golden State Warriors, Gal Mekel will captain the side once more.

“We have a strong team, but Great Britain also has several players I know from the Spanish league,” said Mekel, who is playing this season for Gran Canaria of the Liga ACB. “They have a roster that has been together for several years and this is going to be a difficult game.”

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