Dror Kashtan 224.88.
(photo credit: )
Only three of Israel's starters against England at Wembley last month will be in the team's lineup against Croatia in the crucial Euro 2008 qualifier on Saturday night.
Israel coach Dror Kashtan will be forced to make eight changes after injury and suspension ravaged his squad. Dudu Awat, Arik Benado and Yoav Ziv are all suspended, after picking up their second yellow cards of the campaign at Wembley.
Walid Badier, Yaniv Katan and Yuval Shpungin paid the heaviest price for the national team's embarrassing display in England and weren't even called up to the squad. Idan Tal withdrew from the squad on Wednesday with chest pains and Barak Itzhaki didn't fly out with his teammates on Thursday after failing to recover from a knee injury.
Also missing for a second straight qualifier is Israel's top scorer of the campaign Roberto Colautti, who is still struggling to regain full fitness.
Israel, which is fourth in Group E with 17 points, must win on Saturday to maintain its slender chance of qualifying for the European Championships.
Croatia has never lost a competative match in Zagreb since the country's independence in 1991. The team is top of Group E with 23 points and needs just four more points from its three remaining qualifiers to guarantee a place in Euro 2008.
Israel's poor form, combined with Croatia's outstanding recent play, meant optimism was a rare commodity in the blue-and-white camp that flew out to Zagreb on Thursday.
"I don't think we have much of a chance against Croatia," Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon said. "Even if we manage to win in Zagreb our chances of qualifying are still small because we need other results to go our way."
Slaven Bilic's team has also been hit by injury, but he's not letting it affect his confidence. "We have a lot of faith in the players who are available, because there is more than enough quality here to get the result we need," Bilic told reporters in the team's training base. "We also have a lot of respect for Israel but I don't think we'll have too much to worry about if we perform to the best of our abilities."
Croatia will be without injured strikers Igor Budan, Bosko Balaban and Mladen Petric, but will have a fit again Eduardo da Silva. The Arsenal striker scored a hat-trick in Croatia's 4-3 victory over Israel at Ramat Gan last year and is the obvious danger for the national team once more. Croatia captain Niko Kovac is also out, while midfielder Darijo Srna is doubtful with a hamstring problem.
Goalkeeper Nir Davidovitch, who will replace Awat between the posts, will likely be the busiest Israeli player on the field. Tal Ben-Haim and Shimon Gershon will anchor Israel's defense once again, with Eyal Meshumar and Yigal Antebi expected to start in the right and left back positions respectively.
Yossi Benayoun will once again be the key to any attacking play and will probably be joined in the midfield by Gal Alberman and Tamir Cohen. Aviram Bruchian is the favorite to fill the final midfield position, with Pini Balili and Elyaniv Barda likely starting in the side's attack.
"Croatia are a better team than us, their form is excellent and there is no question that they are the favorites," Benayoun said. "We will do whatever we can and try to get a good result, but it won't be the end of the world if we don't win."
On TV: Croatia vs. Israel (live at 8:15 p.m. on channel 1)