jeremy at wembley 224.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With just hours to go until Israel's crucial Euro 2008 qualifier against England at London's Wembley Stadium on Saturday afternoon everything is prepared and ready.
On Friday afternoon the team came through a 90 minute training session at the grand stadium, the first time the players have kicked a ball on the field of the famous arena, which was only opened in May this year after a seven-year rebuilding project.
Aside from Roberto Colautti, who Israel coach Dror Kashtan confirmed will definitely not play any part in the game, the team had no problems on the pitch. The coach said he will not decide on the rest of his final starting line up until a few hours before the game.
The Israel Football Association had originally said only the first 15 minutes of the training would be open to the press, but once it started allowed journalists to stay for the entire duration, giving the press a chance to see a practice game across the width of the field.
The Israeli media were clearly delighted to be able to enter the legendary stadium and took turns photographing themselves on the side of the pitch. Wembley was originally opened in 1923 and closed from 2000 until 2007 when the stadium was totally demolished and rebuilt from scratch.
A press conference was held at the stadium 45 minutes before the training session began, where Kashtan said he believes his team has the ability to get a good result.
"On a given day and in a given match everyone is vulnerable. I'm absolutely sure that our players will be concentrated and prepared. They know they can do everything in a game that until now Israel has not achieved," Kashtan told reporters.
Kashtan added: "A good result, a draw, maybe more, can serve the purposes of Israeli football and put us in a great position as we head towards the end of this campaign.
"England is England and they are always a strong team - especially at home. Of course England is the favorite."
Israel captain Yossi Benayoun, who plays his club football for Liverpool in the English Premier League, said he is looking forward to playing against his Premiership colleagues.
"It is nice to play against some of the players I play against each week - and with Steven Gerrard, who I train with every day," Benayoun said. "I've been here for two years and I know most of the players. It will be nice to get a good result and make my stay here even nicer."
Benayoun also spoke of the excitement at playing at Wembley. "First we come to enjoy. It is a lovely stadium," Benayoun said. "Of course we want to do the best. Any result other than a loss will make the people in Israel happy. Hopefully we will [get] a good result and give a lot of happiness to our people."
The one thorny incident came when an English journalist asked Kashtan if he had taken any advice from former Israel coach Avraham Grant, who now works as Director of Football at London side Chelsea.
Kashtan and Grant had a public falling out a few years back and IFA spokesman Ofer Ronen would not allow the coach to answer the question, swiftly moving on to the next reporter.
Both Kashtan and Benayoun were asked if they believe England had the upper hand in the first game of this campaign between the two sides at the National Stadium in Ramat Gan in March.
"Nobody deserved more than a point," Benayoun said.