(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel coach Eli Gutman confirmed on Thursday that Yossi Benayoun will break the national team appearance record in next week’s friendly against Mexico in Mexico City.
The national team will leave for the US on Saturday night and will train in Houston before flying to Mexico next Tuesday ahead of Wednesday night’s friendly at the Azteca Stadium.
The Israel squad will then return to Houston for training ahead of the friendly against Honduras at the local BBVA Stadium on Sunday, June 1.
Both Mexico and Honduras are preparing for their participation in the World Cup in Brazil, which gets underway on June 12, while Israel will be playing its final matches before it begins its Euro 2016 qualification campaign against Belgium at Teddy Stadium on September 9.
Israel was drawn into Group B with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, Wales, Cyprus and Andorra, with the qualifiers to be played from September until October, 2015.
For the first time in the European Championships history, the tournament will involve 24 nations, eight more than previous events.
Therefore, the top two teams in each group will automatically qualify for Euro 2016 in France, with the best thirdplace finisher to also gain direct qualification. The remaining eight third-placed teams will take part in play-offs during November 2015.
Most of the squad has been training in Israel since Tuesday, although Benayoun will only join his teammates in the US next week after his club side QPR faces Derby County in the English Championship playoff final on Saturday for a place in the Premier League next season.
The 34-year-old Benayoun is currently tied with national team assistant coach Arik Benado on 94 caps. Gutman snubbed Benayoun for much of the past year, with the midfielder’s last appearance for the blue-and-white coming back in August 2013.
“Benayoun has played well recently and he deserves to be called up,” said Gutman, insisting that he won’t be playing the captain only so he should break the record. “I’m not interested in the record. But if he is already going to break it, he deserves to do so in front of 100,000 fans at the Azteca Stadium.”
Munas Dabbur, who has been in impressive form at Grasshoppers in Switzerland, and Kobi Moyal, who played for Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova in the past season, were both called up for the first time, while Itay Shechter, Maor Melikson and Maharan Radi were all left out.