Israel soccer 224.88.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel goalkeeper Dudu Aoute said on Wednesday that the national team "can and should" qualify for the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.
Israel faces Greece at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Saturday in a qualifier that can make or break its hopes of finishing in first position in Group 2 and progressing to a first World Cup in 40 years.
"We're facing a crucial qualifier and anyone who plays faces a huge responsibility as we all know that this is a match we must win," said Aoute, who is set to make his 42nd Israel appearance on Saturday.
"The public and the players feel that this is our chance to qualify. We can and should reach the World Cup."
Israel captain Yossi Benayoun took part in Wednesday's training session, but avoided any physical contact.
On Thursday, he will have an MRI on his injured hamstring to assess his situation, but regardless of the captain's fate, Aoute believes that the team is good enough to manage without him.
"Yossi is our top player and of course we're better off with him, but we have proven we can win in his absence as well," Aoute said.
"I don't think there is a favorite for Saturday's match. Greece is a very good team with a lot of tradition and I feel the chances are 50-50 in both of the matches."
Saturday's game in Ramat Gan amounts to the opener of a home-and-away series between the two countries. They will face off against each other just three days later, on April 1, in Irakleon, Crete.
Also Wednesday, Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon was elected to the UEFA executive committee.
"This is a very emotional day for me, but also a very important moment for Israeli soccer," said Luzon, who will be one of the 15 members of the committee for the next four years.
"The IFA has managed to break into the top of European sports most important organization and this fact shows the progress the IFA has made in the last two years."