israeli soccer 88.
(photo credit: )
Israel faces Ukraine in an international friendly at National Stadium in Ramat Gan Wednesday evening, in its last match before it hosts England in a Euro 2008 qualifier on March 24.
Wednesday's match will be the national team's first since the disappointing 4-3 defeat to Croatia in a Euro qualifier in mid-November.
Israel's chances of advancing to the European Championships suffered a huge blow after the loss to Croatia, and the side will have to beat England if it's to keep its prospects of qualifying for next summer's championships alive. Israel is currently fifth in Group E with seven points from four matches.
"This friendly match is extremely important to us," Israel coach Dror Kashtan said Tuesday. "The team hasn't trained since the match against Croatia, and we will use the next few days to rehearse some of the things we would like to implement against England."
Seventeen-year-old Ben Sahar is expected to make his debut for Israel. He will face Chelsea teammate Andriy Shevchenko, who will play for the 72nd time for his country.
Shevchenko has struggled since his move to the English champion, only scoring three goals in 23 appearances. Sahar, on the other hand, has had a fantastic season, managing to break into the Chelsea first team and scoring consistently for the club's reserve side.
"A lot of good things have happened to me this year," Sahar said, "but I'm still young and need to continue working hard. I was surprised at being called up to the senior team. It's a huge honor and I need to prove I deserve it."
Israel captain Yossi Benayoun said he was certain Sahar could handle the pressure.
"Despite his young age, Sahar is mature enough," he said. "It's a bit of a shock for him to be in the senior side, but he works hard and he will succeed."
Shevchenko did all he could to avoid the Israeli media when he landed at Ben-Gurion Airport Tuesday afternoon. But he agreed to say something about his young Israeli teammate.
"I know Ben Sahar; he's very talented," Shevchenko said. "I predict a bright future for him."
The promotion of Sahar from Israel's Under-21 side angered the team's coach, Guy Levy, who would prefer that he prepare for the European Under-21 Championships rather than play for the senior team.
But Kashtan has no doubt Sahar deserves his position in the senior squad.
"The fact that he plays for Chelsea speaks for itself," he said. "I was also 17 when I first played for the national team. I followed Sahar when he played for the Hapoel Tel Aviv youth team and recognized his talent back then. His ability and character are the only things that count. His age is unimportant."
Betar Jerusalem defender Arik Benado is set to become the first Israeli to appear 90 times for the national team, after being called up for the first time since Kashtan took charge.
Kashtan may play Benado at defensive midfielder to help prepare him for the game against England, which Idan Tal will have to miss due to a suspension.
On TV: Israel vs Ukraine (live at 6:30 p.m. on Sport 5).