Israel soccer team 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With the frustrating draw against Portugal still lingering in everyone’s mind,
the Israel squad arrived to freezing conditions in Belfast on Sunday evening,
hoping that Tuesday’s 2014 World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland will be
able to go ahead as planned.
Northern Ireland’s match with Russia,
scheduled for Friday in Belfast, couldn’t be played on Friday or Saturday due to
snow and ice in Windsor Park and will likely only take place in the
The temperature is expected to drop to -1 Celsius at the time of
the blue-and- white’s encounter on Tuesday night and the hosts are crossing their
fingers that the pitch will be deemed playable.
The Irish Football
Association had issued an appeal for fans to come to the ground with shovels to
help clear snow on Saturday, but it was to no avail, with Norwegian referee Tom
Hagen and the FIFA match delegates deciding to cancel the encounter with
Windsor Park lacks under soil heating, but Northern Ireland
manager Michael O’Neill claimed that the “freak weather” was responsible for the
postponement of Friday’s match.
“We experienced freak weather which would
have been challenging for any association to get the game on,” he said. “At the
end of the day there are more modern stadia that could maybe deal with it but
it’s the first time in history it has happened in Northern Ireland, so it’s not
something we haven’t managed well, or have mis-managed over time.”
the postponement of the Russia match, both Kyle Lafferty and Chris Baird will be
unable to play against Israel due to suspensions.
The core of the
Northern Ireland squad is built around players from clubs in England’s lower
divisions, with several exceptions, most notably Manchester United defender
Northern Ireland has yet to win in Group F, but has also
only lost once in four qualifiers. O’Neill’s team suffered a 2-0 defeat at
Russia in its group opener, but has since recorded three straight 1-1 draws,
disappointingly being held by Luxembourg and Azerbaijan at home, but picking up
an admirable point in Portugal.
Northern Ireland could also only manage a
0-0 draw with Malta in its most recent friendly contest in February and has only
won once in its past 21 matches in all competitions.
coach Eli Gutman told his players that the encounter in Belfast will be even
tougher than the game against Portugal.
“The most important thing is that
we maintain our composure,” Gutman told his squad. “We are facing a strong team
that also drew with Portugal.”
Gutman went on to tell his players that he
believes the national team will advance to the playoffs from second place in the
group should it beat Northern Ireland, despite still having to face both the
Portuguese and group leader Russia on the road.
Gutman will make at least
one change from the 3-3 draw in Ramat Gan on Friday, with Tomer Hemed, who
scored his sixth goal of the campaign against Portugal, missing out on the trip
to Belfast after picking up a yellow card, being replaced in the squad by
The early indications are that Gutman will likely replace
Hemed in the lineup with a midfielder, although the coach could eventually opt
for striker Itay Shechter rather than the likes of Yossi Benayoun or Lior
Rubin Kazan midfielder Bibras Natcho, who is set to start for
Israel once more, is well accustomed to playing in freezing conditions having
played in the Russian league since 2010.
“Sometimes when it’s cold the
players are actually more comfortable,” said Natcho. “Regardless, we aren’t
going there to have a good time. We were disappointed with the draw against
Portugal, but everyone would have been happy with a draw before the match.”