Tricky timing for blue-and-white’s Croatia friendly

The national team doesn’t play its first World Cup 2018 qualifier until September 5 when it hosts Italy.

March 22, 2016 04:23
2 minute read.
Israel fans hold placards during their Euro 2016 Group B qualifying soccer match against Wales

Israel fans hold placards during their Euro 2016 Group B qualifying soccer match against Wales at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Interim Israel national team coach Alon Hazan insisted he doesn’t want to be handed the job on a full-time basis and that he will first and foremost try not to get in the way when he guides the blue-and-white in Wednesday night’s friendly match against Croatia in Osijek.

Hazan, the under-17 national coach, was asked to guide the side against Croatia as the Israel Football Association only officially began its search for the new head coach last week, five months after the departure of Eli Gutman.

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Gutman’s four-year tenure officially came to an end last October, one day after the blue-and-white capped its campaign with a 3-1 loss in Belgium to finish Euro 2016 qualifying Group B in fourth place.

The search committee announced last week that it has invited Elisha Levy, Guy Luzon, Eli Ohana, Ran Ben-Shimon and Nir Klinger to interview for the job, with the first two considered to be the favorites to succeed Gutman.

The national team doesn’t play its first World Cup 2018 qualifier until September 5 when it hosts Italy.

“I prefer to remain a temporary coach,” said Hazan on Monday. “I have no problem with the fact I wasn’t invited by the search committee.”

Hazan will have to manage without the injured Lior Refaelov and sick Eran Zahavi in Croatia, with the two being replaced on the squad on Monday.

Refaelov aggravated a stomach injury while playing in the Belgian cup final on Sunday. He scored Club Brugge’s goal in a 2-1 defeat to Standard Liege. Zahavi required an IV after playing 90 minutes in Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 1-1 draw with Hapoel Beersheba in Premier League action on Sunday.

“I haven’t had a chance to coach Eran Zahavi, but from our brief acquaintance I can say that I wish all the players had his passion and hunger for the game,” said Hazan. “It is hard for me to believe that he is trying to avoid this trip.”

The absence of Refaelov and Zahavi increases the chances of Yossi Benayoun starting for the blue-and-white. The 35-year-old’s international career looked to be over after Gutman didn’t call him up for any of the team’s Euro 2016 qualifiers.

However, the Israel record holder with 96 caps never retired from the blue-and-white, and his impressive showings for Maccabi Haifa this season are set to earn him a first cap since the summer of 2014.

“We live in a country where there is a lot of criticism. Had I not called him up I would have also been criticized,” said Hazan. “Yossi is here because of his ability.

His age is irrelevant.

“We are facing a tough match against a strong team,” he added. “As a player I always wanted to face the best teams and I’m sure our players feel the same way. I won’t be able to do much in a day-and-a-half, so if I can’t have a positive effect I will try not to get in the way.”

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