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Dror Kashtan has kept his promise to rejuvenate the national soccer team. The new coach, who took over from Avraham Grant in May, announced his first squad on Sunday at Israel Football Association headquarters in Ramat Gan.
The team, which will train for a friendly against Slovenia on August 15 ahead of its first two Euro 2008 qualification matches early next month, does not include some notable names.
Veterans Avi Nimni, Arik Benado, Alon Harazi and Adoram Keisi were all left off the team, while youngsters Aviram Baruchian and Amit Ben-Shushan were called up.
"I believe in calling up young players and combining them with the veterans," Kashtan said at a press conference. "I want them to soak up the atmosphere and play for the national team with their heads held high."
The most surprising exclusion from the squad was of former captain Nimni. The Maccabi Tel Aviv star led the Israeli team in its 2006 World Cup qualifiers and was expected to be called up once again.
Kashtan chose not to explain the dropping of Nimni and was only willing to talk about players that were not included in the squad.
"The door to the national team is always open to every player," Kashtan noted. "The squad could still change and every player with the will and ambition can try and prove he is worthy of being on the team."
When asked about being dropped, Nimni gave a typically low key response. "I will be at the service of the national team whenever I'll be called upon," he said.
Assuming the role of captain will be West Ham United star Yossi Benayoun. The midfielder has been Israel's best player in its last two qualifying campaigns and finally has been rewarded for his performances.
"I have given the captaincy to a very talented player," said Kashtan. "I visited him in London and saw his leadership qualities at West Ham. I made it clear to him that I'm giving him the reins to the team and that he is the most important player in the squad."
Kashtan, who also decided not to call up record cap holders Harazi and Benado (88 appearances for the national team each), stressed in the press conference that the only measure of success will be qualification to the European Championships in 2008.
"The national team has not qualified for an international tournament in 30 years," the coach pointed out. "Our goal is to erase that number. It is a difficult challenge, but we are not afraid of it. We have faith in the squad of players."
The squad includes for the first time Maccabi Haifa's Argentinian striker Roberto Colautti, who recently became a temporary resident following his marriage to an Israeli and will give the national team a much needed cutting edge in front of goal.
Kashtan's first match in charge will be on August 15 in Slovenia, following a training camp there.
In qualifying for the 2008 European Championships, Israel will play in Group 5 with England, Croatia, Russia, Macedonia, Estonia and Andorra. The blue-and-white have two matches in the first week of September.
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