Soccer: Israel anticipates massive World Cup qualifying challenge

The blue-and-white was drawn on Saturday to face former World Cup winners Spain and Italy in qualifying Group G, as well as Albania, Macedonia and Liechtenstein.

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July 27, 2015 02:00
2 minute read.
Israel midfielder Eran Zahavi is looking forward to the challenge of facing Spain and Italy in 2018

Israel midfielder Eran Zahavi is looking forward to the challenge of facing Spain and Italy in 2018 World Cup qualifying. (photo credit: ERAN LUF)

 
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The Israel national team will host Italy to begin its 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign next September and will end it with a home game against Spain, FIFA announced on Sunday.

The blue-and-white was drawn on Saturday to face former World Cup winners Spain and Italy in qualifying Group G, as well as Albania, Macedonia and Liechtenstein.

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Only the group winner will qualify automatically. The eight best runners-up will advance to home-and-away playoffs, with the four winners to progress to the tournament in Russia in three years.

Global powerhouses Spain, which was crowned world champion in 2010, and Italy, which won the last of its four titles in 2006, are massive favorites to claim the first two places in the group, with neither team missing a major tournament since Euro 1992.

Israeli players and fans will at least get the chance to face and witness some of the world’s top players, with the blue-and-white to host Italy in its opener on September 5, 2016. Israel will visit Macedonia on October 6 and welcome Liechtenstein three days later.

The national team will then travel to Albania on November 12 before visiting Spain on March 24, 2017. That will be followed by qualifiers against Albania (June 11), Macedonia (September 2), Italy (September 5) and Liechtenstein (October 6) before the conclusion of the campaign against Spain at home on October 9.

“This is soccer and you can always dream,” said Israel midfielder Bibras Natcho when asked about the team’s chances of qualifying for the next World Cup.

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“It will still be a special experience and maybe we will be able to progress as a team. Our chances aren’t very good, but maybe this time when the expectations are so low we will be able to exceed them.”

Israel will resume its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign when it hosts Andorra on September 3 before visiting Wales just three days later.

The blue-and-white currently sits in fourth place in Group B with nine points from six matches following three consecutive defeats. 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 third-placed sides to play a home-andaway playoff for four berths.

“We must beat Andorra at home and then record a good result at Wales,” said Natcho. “I think it will be easier to win at Wales than it was at home because we were overconfident at the time. If we can qualify this time it will change the way the team approaches campaigns in the future.”

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