italy world cup 298 88.
(photo credit: AP)
Israel's preparations for its 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign will begin in earnest on Wednesday when the national team hosts Romania in an international friendly at National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
The national team's first qualifier against Switzerland may be seven months away, but coach Dror Kashtan is convinced that Wednesday's friendly is extremely important.
"Some people have questioned our decision to play this friendly, but their question marks should be replaced by exclamation marks. Every game and every training session adds to the players' international experience," Kashtan said on Tuesday. "In our recent matches we showed that Israeli soccer has progressed and that gives us some hope for the future."
Of Wednesday's opponent, Kashtan added: "Romania qualified for Euro 2008 from the first place in its group, losing just one match in its entire campaign. They have a very strong team and we will need to be committed in our play on Wednesday."
Despite being out of favor at Spanish club Deportivo La Coruna goalkeeper Dudu Awat is expected to start in goal once again, a decision which has the full backing of Israel captain Yossi Benayoun.
"Awat played about 150 consecutive matches in the Spanish league. He might be having some problems at the moment, but he'll be the first keeper wherever he chooses to play. Sitting on the bench doesn't make him a worse keeper," Benayoun said.
Romania's coach Victor Piturca brought all his stars to Israel, including Fiorentina's Adrian Mutu and Inter Milan's Christian Chivu, and is treating Wednesday's friendly encounter with all seriousness.
"The first friendly is very important to us and I hope we do well. The team that reached the European Championships will play at Ramat Gan and I'm hoping to use all 20 of my players," Piturca said.
Chivu said: "This is an important match for us to see in what shape we are in. Israel is a very good opponent which caused England and Russia a lot of trouble. We want to win every international match even if it's a friendly."
Mutu, who has led Fiorentina to fourth place in the Italian standings this season, has scored 15 goals in 23 matches for his club and claimed on Tuesday that he's currently playing the best soccer of his life.
"Every friendly match is important, especially as we've not played in three months," Mutu said. "I'm going through the best period of my career at the moment, at my club and in the national team. We can't underestimate Israel. Anything can happen in sport and Israel can beat us."
The Israel Football Association also announced on Tuesday that it's teaming-up with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in Israel with the object of raising half-a-million dollars for research until the end of the year.
On TV: Israel vs Romania (live at 8:45 p.m. on Channel 1)
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