(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel held its first training session on Monday evening ahead of Saturday's crucial Euro 2008 qualifier against England at Wembley Stadium.
Yossi Benayoun (Liverpool), Tal Ben-Haim (Chelsea), Dudu Awat (Deportivo La Coruna), Roberto Colautti (Bourussia Monchengladbach), Pini Balili (Sivasspor), and Elyaniv Barda (Genk) didn't take part in training at the National Stadium in Ramat Gan and will only join the team on Tuesday when it arrives in London.
Israel, which has accumulated 17 points in eight qualifiers to date, is joint-top of Group E with Croatia, but will have to collect at least one point in its next two matches away from home against England and Croatia respectively to have any chance of advancing to the European Championships."
England will be without Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and several more injured players on Saturday, but Israel coach Dror Kashtan is not letting his opponent's crisis affect his game plan in any way.
"Any result other than a loss will be one of Israeli soccer's greatest ever achievements," Kashtan said at a press conference in Ramat Gan on Monday. "Players get injured, but the England squad is still full of worthy players. I'm certain England will lineup a high-quality side despite its problems."
Defender Shimon Gershon was, however, far more optimistic than his coach.
"If we prepare properly we can record a good result and even win," the Betar Jerusalem player said. "Our chances are pretty good. England is under a lot of pressure and I believe that if we don't concede in the first part of the match the pressure on the English team will grow and we'll have a good chance."
Gershon is preparing for an English onslaught at the start of the match and is hopeful that England's injuries will play into Israel's hands. "We will be ready for the English attack and will have to keep our cool at the beginning of the match.
"The injuries are an advantage for Israel and increase the pressure on England. We are aware of the importance of this match, but we're entering the encounter fearless."
Kashtan emphasized that he believes Israel's squad is equipped to give England a run for its money, but refused to reveal how he will line-up his team at Wembley.
"This is the best possible squad we could have assembled. Some of the players may not be at their peak, but they will all give their best on the day."
Refusing to be specific about his plans, Kashtan added: "I won't say how we intend to play, but I can reveal that we will only have four defenders in the starting 11.
"We may play 4-3-3 or 4-4-2, I've yet to decide. McClaren [England manager] is listening to every word I say in the same way we follow everything said or written in England. He's keeping the cards close to his chest and so am I."
The Israel coach also spoke of his excitement of guiding a team at Wembley. "No Israeli coach has ever led a team at Wembley. I will be the first," Kashtan said.
"I visited Wembley for the first time in 1966 and watched all of England's matches during their triumphant World Cup. I was also at the stadium for the FA Cup final, but on Saturday I'll be seeing Wembley from a different angle."
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