Grant prepares for last match

National team coach departs after Wednesday's friendly against Denmark.

By
March 1, 2006 08:17
3 minute read.

 
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Avraham Grant will guide Israel's national soccer team for the last time on Wednesday night when the blue-and-white play Denmark in a friendly match at the National Stadium in Ramat Gan. Grant led Israel to an unbeaten World Cup qualification campaign, but twice failed in getting the team to its first major tournament since 1970. "I will always be a fan of the national team," Grant said on Tuesday. "We began a journey four years ago and I return the team in a much better state then I received it." Dror Kashtan will take over as national team coach in July. The Danish team's arrival was placed under doubt last week when concerns regarding the team's safety were raised as anti-Denmark riots broke out in the Middle East following the publication of a Muhammad caricature in a Danish newspaper. The press in Denmark speculated that the national team was considering cancelling the trip to Israel, but after the Israeli Football Association guaranteed the Danish players' safety, it was decided that the match would go ahead as planned. Despite the Danish federation's decision to travel to Israel, defender Bo Svensson opted out. Svensson, who plays for Germany's Borussia M nchengladbach, was set to join the national team for the first time but was worried about his safety. "I think of my two-year-old son and of my family," Svensson told Danish paper BT. "I don't want to put them in danger because of a friendly match in Israel. "It was a tough decision because it's the first time I've been called up to the national team and who knows when I'll be called up again. I thought about it a lot and came to the conclusion that it wasn't worth the risk." Israeli Arab player Abas Suan, who is Muslim, dismissed the concerns. "All religions should be left aside," Suan said. "I am not expecting any anti-Danish demonstrations. "All I am interested in is winning the match." Despite the minor media frenzy, the Israel Police have not taken any extraordinary measures, and training sessions on Monday and Tuesday at the National Stadium passed without incident. The IFA announced earlier this week that soldiers will be allowed into the stadium to watch the match free of charge. The last time Denmark played in Ramat Gan was in November 1999, with the match ending in a 5-0 drubbing inflicted on the hosts. Midfielder Martin Jorgensen was part of the Danish team that routed Israel seven years ago, but has no illusions of a repeat result this time around. "We all know it won't happen this time; it's just a friendly," he said. "There will be a nice atmosphere and I hope lots of fans come." Danish coach Morten Olsen was full of praise for the Israelis in the pre-match press conference on Tuesday. "We're playing against a good opponent," he said at IFA headquarters in the stadium. "They didn't lose a match in the World Cup qualification campaign and finished third in the group. I don't think there's such a big difference between the Danish and Israeli teams." "Israel has good players who play in the English Premier League and that speaks for itself," he added. Aston Villa 'keeper Thomas Sorensen also spoke highly of the Israeli internationals. "The Israeli players have come a long way; they play in England and that's good for them and for the national team," he said. Sorensen was unwilling to address the political/security issues and simply stated, "I had no fear of coming to Israel." Maccabi Tel Aviv advances in State Cup State Cup holder Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated third-leaguers Bnei Lod 3-0 on Tuesday afternoon, booking its place in the 10th round of the State Cup. Maccabi will host National League club Hapoel Acre on Saturday with a place in the quarterfinals at stake. Tel Aviv was unable to break down the Lod defense in the first half, but in the 61st minute Roei Dayan scored for the yellow-and-blue and allowed coach Ton Caanen to breathe a sigh of relief. Five minutes later the visitors doubled their lead thanks to an Ophir Haim penalty kick. The final goal of the match came 10 minutes from time when Giorgi Demitradze scored his first goal since joining the team. Maccabi also received some bad news on Tuesday, when midfielder Eyal Berkovic was suspended for six matches for his outburst against referee Meir Levi in Friday's match against Hapoel Upper Nazareth. As well as being forced to sit out six games, Berkovic also was handed a four-match suspended sentence. AP contributed to this report. On TV: Israel vs Denmark (live at 8:30 p.m. on Channel 10).

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