israel soccer 298.88.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Just two days ago it was being treated as nothing but a meaningless training match. But after England lost to Russia on Wednesday, Israel's Euro 2008 qualifier against the Russians next month has been heaped with significance.
Although Israel has no chance of progressing from Group E, all eyes will be on Ramat Gan Stadium on November 17 when the blue and white can give England a chance of qualifying for the finals by beating Russia.
Israel coach Dror Kashtan has said he is unconcerned with the massive importance his team's match against Russia has suddenly taken on.
Russia, which beat England 2-1 on Wednesday, can assure itself of qualification for Euro 2008 by defeating Israel and then Andorra four days later. England needs to beat Croatia in its final group match on November 21 and for Russia to drop points to advance to the European Championships.
Israel will carry England's dreams of qualification for Euro 2008, but Kashtan is concentrating on his team and not his opponents.
"We want to represent the country in the best way possible against Russia," he said. "I'm not concerned with what the English or Russians think of how we play. The only thing that interests me is that the national team will put on a good and worthy display."
Israel lost any hope of qualifying for Euro 2008 on Saturday when it lost 1-0 to Croatia in Zagreb. The team is currently fourth in Group E with 17 points from 10 matches.
"We are relying on Israel to do us a favour," England manager Steve McClaren said on Wednesday. "They have a good home record. We have been there and it is a tough place to get a result, so it is not going to be easy for Russia. Obviously, we are very disappointed. We have gone from being in control of the group to qualification being out of our hands. All we can do is reflect, keep our spirits high and stick together.
"We still have one game to go. Russia have two. That is the reality. Let's see where we are after 12 games."
England midfielder Steven Gerrard was clearly disappointed with the situation. "I can't believe it is out of our hands because we have worked so hard over the last five or six games to put ourselves in the driving seat and make ourselves favorites to go through," said the Liverpool captain who missed an easy chance to put England 2-0 up early in the second half on Wednesday. "We went 1-0 up in Russia and you start believing you are nearly there, that you have got one foot in the finals, but football is a cruel game.
Gerrard also realized the significant role Israel can play.
"It is important that we don't give up. We are waiting on other people to do us favors but as players we've got to stick together, focus and believe to the end. Israel are capable of getting a result against Russia but, with them not being able to qualify, it's certainly a difficult situation."
Jeremy Last contributed to this report