MACCABI TEL AVIV striker Barak Itzhaki 370.
(photo credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv website)
After four years, Barak Itzhaki is back in the Israel squad, with national team coach Eli Gutman naming the Maccabi Tel Aviv striker among the 24 players called up on Friday for the upcoming 2014 World Cup qualifiers against Portugal and Northern Ireland.
Itzhaki last played for Israel in September 2009, but his recent excellent form for Maccabi Tel Aviv has not gone unnoticed by Gutman, who once more chose not to call up Yossi Benayoun, who is still without a club.
Itzhaki is among seven Maccabi players in the squad, which is hardly surprising considering the yellow-and-blue’s scorching start to the season.
Maccabi has become the first team ever to start a league campaign with four straight wins without conceding a single goal and registered an extremely impressive 2-1 win at Girondins de Bordeaux in Europa League Group F action in France on Thursday night.
Tel Aviv fought back from a goal down in France, with Jussie giving the hosts the lead three minutes into the second half before Itzhaki (71) and Dor Micha (80) completed a memorable comeback which leaves the yellow-and-blue well placed to advance to the round of 32.
Maccabi currently sits in second position in the group with four points from two matches, two behind group leader Eintract Frankfurt and three ahead of Bordeaux and APOEL Nicosia.
“I felt we were the better team from the first whistle,” said Itzhaki. “We believed from the start that we could win and we didn’t lose faith when we fell behind.”
Itzhaki essentially took the place of Stade Reims striker and former teammate Eliran Atar, who was dropped from the Israel squad by Gutman.
Another notable absentee is Celtic’s Beram Kayal, while Eden Ben-Basat is back in the squad after missing last month’s matches through injury. The coach also handed goalkeeper Boris Kleyman his first call up, although he isn’t expected to feature at Portugal on Friday or in Israel’s final qualifier against Northern Ireland on October 15.
The blue-and-white enters its final two qualifiers 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, while third place is effectively secured with Israel holding a six-point gap over Northern Ireland and Luxembourg.