Crucial qualifier for Gutman’s crew with Azerbaijan in town

Coach Eli Gutman has known for several months that he would have to manage without top scorer, Tomer Hemed, who could be out until next year after injuring his Achilles heel.

September 4, 2013 00:31
2 minute read.
Bibras Natcho.

Bibras Natcho 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Despite an ever-growing injury list, the Israel national team knows it will have no excuse should it fail to defeat Azerbaijan in a must-win 2014 World Cup qualifier at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Saturday night.

Coach Eli Gutman has known for several months that he would have to manage without top scorer, Tomer Hemed, who could be out until next year after injuring his Achilles heel.

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However, he surely wasn’t expecting to be without six more players who would have certainly featured in the squad.

The team’s second highest scorer, Eden Ben-Basat, who together with Hemed has accounted for 10 of Israel’s 15 goals in Group F, was ruled out after picking up a thigh injury playing for French club Toulouse, while reliable leftback Rami Gershon will miss the match after injuring his knee while playing for Beveren of Belgium.

Maccabi Haifa defenders Taleb Tawatha and Eyal Meshumar, who could have perhaps filled Gershon’s shoes, both pulled out of the squad after suffering injuries in their team’s Europa League draw at Astra of Romania last week.

Gutman’s problems aren’t just limited to defense or attack, with midfielders Biram Kiyal and Avi Rikan also both unavailable through injuries.

Midfielder Maor Melikson and defender Yuval Shpungin at least made it to Israel for the start of training, but both are also injury doubts for Saturday.

Gutman resorted to calling up Omer Damari, Ofir Davidzada and Ofer Verta on Monday night to give himself more options, but he has got a real headache as he tries to assemble a makeshift starting lineup for Saturday.

Israel currently sits in third place in Group F with 11 points from six matches, trailing secondplaced Russia, which has 12 points from six games, and group-leader Portugal, which has 14 points from seven encounters.

Despite what seems like a promising position, Israel’s chances of qualifying for a first World Cup in 44 years remain small, with the blue-and-white still to visit Russia next Tuesday and play Portugal on the road on October 11 before ending its campaign at home against Northern Ireland four days later.

Besides winning its final two home matches, Israel will also likely have to triumph in at least one of its games at Russia or Portugal to have any hope of finishing in the runners-up position and qualifying for the playoffs.

Elsewhere, the Israel Football Association and the Palestinian Football Association agreed on a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday to facilitate the movement of persons and goods for soccer purposes in and out of and within the Palestinian Authority.

The FIFA Task Force Israel-Palestine held its first meeting in Zurich on Tuesday, under the chairmanship of FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

The sides agreed to meet again in Jordan, with a first report to be presented to the FIFA Executive Committee in October.

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