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(photo credit: AP)
The national team begins its Euro 2008 qualifying campaign this weekend, with a potentially tricky away fixture against Estonia. New coach Dror Kashtan will be hoping to start off on a winning note, in order to stand a chance against other Group E rivals England, Croatia and Russia.
"The strikers have to score this time around," Maccabi Petah Tikva forward Omer Golan said ahead of the game and Wednesday's match with Andorra.
"Our attack has to come up with the goods. We have to earn all six points against Estonia and Andorra. The defence is also important, but these games are all about scoring."
Kashtan has turned things around since his appointment earlier this summer, leaving out former regulars such as Avi Nimni and Arik Benado in favor of younger players.
Salim Toema, Toto Tamuz and Tomer Ben Yosef are just a few of the new faces brought in by Kashtan in order to renovate the squad.
The latest addition is Argentinean Roberto Colautti, who joined the team at the Ben-Gurion airport just minutes before the departure to Estonia.
The versatile Maccabi Haifa striker was denied participation earlier this week due to missing paperwork, but received his Israeli resident status confirmation and was cleared to resume his national duties.
"I'm very happy as I've waited a lot for this moment," Colautti told reporters. "It was a last moment development and it caught me by surprise, but I am here to help the team now. Hopefully my debut will be positive and I'll score a few goals."
Bolton Wanderers defender Tal Ben Haim is back in the squad, after patching up his differences with coach Kashtan. The former Maccabi Tel Aviv player's status in the national team was uncertain due to a well-documented rift with the national coach.
Ben Haim skipped the final practice session prior to the friendly against Slovenia last month without informing the training staff, which resulted in an indefinite and unconditional suspension by Kashtan. But the physical sweeper apologized for his mistake and was eventually recalled into the national squad.
The Estonians have come a long way in the last decade, shedding their "punchbag" image and becoming a rising force in European soccer. The team is coming off a 0-1 loss to Macedonia and will be eager to get back to its winning ways in front the Lillekula Stadium in Tallinn, which is expected to be full with 9,300 ecstatic supporters.
Andres Oper, who also plays for Dutch outfit Roda, is considered the biggest threat on the Estonian squad. The veteran striker will be making his 100th career appearance for his national team tomorrow, hoping to raise his goal tally which currently stands at 28.
Israeli coach Dror Kashtan has yet to announce his starting lineup, with the biggest question around the goalkeeper position.
Nir Davidovich from Maccabi Haifa and Dudu Awat, who plays for Spanish side Deportivo La Coruna, are performing well at their respective clubs and making the choice tough for Kashtan.
The national team's attacking formation is also unclear, with newcomer Colautti, Omer Golan and Shlomi Arbitman contending for the opening spot next to Yaniv Katan, who is considered a regular starter in Kashtan's game-plan.
Israel's next game will be against Andorra on September 6, which has been moved to Nijmegen, Holland following UEFA's ruling that banned Israel from hosting international fixtures.
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