Maccabi Haifa captain Yossi Benayoun celebrates after scoring his team’s winner in a 1-0 victory at Ironi Kiryat Shmona, March 9, 2015.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Yossi Benayoun is back in the Israel squad, being called up by interim coach Alon Hazan for next week’s friendly against Croatia, nine months after he made his last appearance for the national team.
The 35-year-old’s international career looked to be over after previous coach Eli Gutman didn’t call him up for any of the team’s Euro 2016 qualifiers. However, the Israel appearance record holder with 96 caps, never retired from the blue-and-white, leaving the door open to play again for the national team.
His impressive showings for Maccabi Haifa this season earned him a callup from Hazan, the under-17 national coach who will guide the side in Osijek next Wednesday in Israel’s first match since its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign ended in bitter disappointment last November.
“I have always been proud to play for the national team,” said Benayoun. “I couldn’t be happier to receive this call up.”
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.
Israel Football Association chairman Ofer Eini said at the time that he will not rush to name a new coach, but the search only officially got underway on Tuesday with the first meeting of the IFA’s search committee.
The national team doesn’t play its first World Cup 2018 qualifier until September 5 when it hosts Italy.
Besides Benayoun, Almog Cohen also returns to the squad, being called up for the first time in more than three years.
The midfielder of German Bundesliga club Ingolstadt fell out with Gutman at the start of his tenure and will aim to reclaim his place in the center of the Israel midfield after becoming a fixture in his team’s starting lineup since the start of the year.
Kenny Sayef, who plays for Belgian club Gent, is set to make his debut against Croatia and end any doubt regarding his national team of choice.
The 22-year-old midfielder is also an American citizen and was reportedly considering waiting for a call-up from the USA national team.
“I’m happy and excited to be part of the Israel national team,” said Sayef.
“The Israel national team was always my first option.”
Hapoel Beersheba defender Ben Biton is also in line to make his first appearance for the blue-and-white, with Beersheba having six players in the squad, more than any other club.
The most notable absentee is Maccabi Tel Aviv defender Tal Ben-Haim, who wasn’t called up for professional reasons for the first time in 11 years after losing his place in the yellow-and-blue’s lineup.