(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel’s players have rallied behind coach Eli Gutman ahead of the national
team’s final 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
The blue-and-white enters its
last two qualifiers, at Portugal on Friday and at home against Northern Ireland
next Tuesday, with almost nothing to play for.
A top-two finish is out of
reach following last month’s draw with Azerbaijan and defeat at Russia and third
place is effectively secured with Israel holding a six-point gap over Northern
Ireland and Luxembourg.
All that really remains to be determined is
Gutman’s future, with the coach’s contract set to run out at the end of the
The decision regarding Gutman will be made mainly by Israel
Football Association chairman Avi Luzon, who will be handed the coach’s report
on the campaign following the final qualifier next week.
The players have
thrown their support behind Gutman, with both Maor Melikson and Eden Ben-Basat
publicly calling for the coach to be handed a contract
“Changing the coach will achieve nothing,” said Valenciennes
midfielder Melikson. “The players are just not good enough to finish above teams
like Russia and Portugal.”
Ben-Basat, who is back in the squad after
missing last month’s qualifiers through injury, was even more unequivocal in his
backing of Gutman.
“Eli is one of the best coaches in Israel. It is not
for me to talk about him,” he said. “You can’t take anything away from what
Gutman has achieved in his career. I think he should remain the coach. The
players need to take responsibility for the results just like Eli has
The national squad arrived in Portugal on Tuesday, and despite
last month’s disappointment, and the ominous opponent, Ben-Basat believes the
blue-and-white can surprise Cristiano Ronaldo and friends.
“We are going
to Portugal with the aim of being a worthy opponent,” said the Toulouse striker.
“We had a chance to advance from this group had we beaten Azerbaijan last month,
but the draw sealed our fate.
“After last month’s qualifiers it was clear
that this campaign was a failure.
On the other hand, we still have two
more matches to play and we must end the campaign on a sweet
Melikson echoed his teammate’s sentiment.
“We will do our
best to regain the public’s trust,” said Melikson. “The match in Portugal will
be far from easy, but we will try and make life difficult for them. Our chances
aren’t very good, but we won’t give up in advance.”
“Portugal is a team
of the highest level with players like Ronaldo. We will have to work very hard
to stop them.”