Blue-and-white braces for mighty Azzurrini

Italians pose daunting challenge for Israel, which is still smarting from draw with Norway.

June 7, 2013 00:41
2 minute read.
ISRAEL WAS able to score two goals and almost win on Wednesday night .

Israel u21 soccer team celebrate 370. (photo credit: (Baz Ratner/Reuters))

Three days after suffering heartbreak against Norway in the European Under- 21 Championship opener, Israel will look to make amends when it hosts Italy at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday night in its second match in Group A.

The blue-and-white players would have likely settled for a draw against the Norwegians had they been presented with an offer prior to the match. However, the Israeli camp was completely dejected following the 2-2 tie in Netanya after conceding an equalizer in the 91st minute.

Harmeet Singh ensured Norway claimed a deserved point, with the Scandinavians outplaying Israel throughout the match, including the entire second half in which they played with just 10-men following Vegar Hedenstad’s sending off.

Israel was also gifted a 16th-minute penalty by Polish referee Pawel Gil, which was converted by Nir Biton, but Marcus Pedersen quickly leveled the score and Singh silenced the local fans after Alon Turgeman put the hosts ahead once more in the 71st minute.

Coach Guy Luzon was pleased with picking up a point despite Norway’s stoppage-time strike, but berated his squad for what he described as its worst performance in two years.

“I knew before the start that Norway is a great team,” he said. “I am not satisfied with the way that we played. I want to see my team as an organized team defensively and this did not happen. However, we scored our historic first goal at this tournament so I am satisfied with that.”

Marwan Kabha, who was substituted in the 38th minute after straining stomach muscles, is not expected to be fit to face Italy, but Luzon isn’t likely to make many more changes to his starting lineup despite Wednesday’s poor showing.

“I’m happy with my starting team. It is the same starting 11 that played in the friendlies against Germany, the Netherlands and Russia and they were magnificent in those games,” he said. “However, nobody played at the usual level against Norway.”

Italy currently leads Group A after beating England 1-0 on Wednesday thanks to Lorenzo Insigne’s free kick in the 79th minute.

Italy’s squad includes full internationals Marco Verratti of PSG and Mattia Destro of AS Roma, as well as the likes of Liverpool’s Fabio Borini, and Wednesday’s star Insigne is understandably brimming with confidence ahead of the showdown with Israel.

“We are pleased with the performance and the win against England,” said the up-and-coming Napoli forward. “But from Thursday we are thinking about the game against Israel. We have to take to the pitch with the same attitude and try to get the result.”

Once again, both teams will walk onto the pitch hand in hand with Jewish and Muslim children who play in the Peres Center for Peace youth leagues as part of the Player Escort project sponsored by McDonald’s.

Also Saturday, England will hope to bounce back against Norway after a display against Italy which coach Stuart Pearce labeled as “awful”.

“The performance was very poor. The players know that it wasn’t good enough, the better team won,” he said. “The positive is we played that badly and only lost 1-0. We were awful.”

Israel will play England in its final group match on Tuesday, with Italy to face Norway.

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