(photo credit: nir keidar)
Ashdod SC midfielder Nir Biton and Hapoel Beersheba playmaker Maor Melikson were among the surprise inclusions in Luis Fernandez’s first Israel squad when it was announced on Thursday morning.
Six of the Frenchman’s 25 call-ups have yet to play for the national team and they will all be aiming to impress in training next week and earn their debuts in the friendly matches against Uruguay and Chile to be played on March 26 and 30, respectively.
There was an expectation that Fernandez would end four years of Dror Kashtan boredom in his first full press conference on Thursday, but the new national team coach did his best to rely on cliches in the 50 minutes he spent with the local journalists.
“The most important thing for me is that everyone works together for the team,” he said through an interpreter. “The national team belongs to the Israeli people and we will try to assemble a strong and committed side.”
Fernandez will hold his first training session with the players next Tuesday and is expected to release several of them ahead of the friendlies in South America.
“I’m looking forward to meeting all the players,” he said. “Our goal is the first Euro 2012 qualifier against Malta on September 3. We’ve got three friendlies until then and the important thing is that we get to know the players and teach them my system.”
Besides Biton and Melikson, there are two goalkeepers and defenders who could make their debuts in South America.
Ohad Levita, who plays for Dutch club RKC Waalwijk, Betar Jerusalem’s shot-stopper Ariel Harush and Maccabi Haifa defenders Shai Maimom and Ali Ottman will all be hoping to make the traveling squad to Uruguay and Chile and earn their first caps.
“I open my eyes and if I see a player with potential I call him up,” said Fernandez. “As the Israel coach I need to come with an open mind and look for players throughout the league and not just from the big teams.”
Fernandez said he is expecting tough matches in South America, but is
hopeful the team will eventually be able to qualify for Euro 2012.
“We will try and play well against Chile and Uruguay, but we mustn’t
forget that these are two teams which will be playing in the World
Cup,” he said.
“It will be difficult to reach the European Championships, but it is possible. I believe we can do it.”
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