israel england game 298.
(photo credit: AP)
As the last of Israel's and England's fans were making their way out of National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Saturday night, a colleague turned to me and asked how does Croatia's 88th minute winner against Macedonia affect the national team's chances of reaching Euro 2008.
"It doesn't," I answered.
Israel's chances of advancing to the European soccer championship are non-existent and regardless of the outcome of a match between two of its Group E opponents, the blue-and-white face an uphill battle, Everest style, to reach Austria and Switzerland next year.
On his first day on the job, Israel coach Dror Kashtan stated that only qualification for Euro 2008 should be regarded as a success. Five matches into the 12-match campaign, there is no alternative but to brand Kashtan's time with the national team as a failure.
Not only is the veteran coach not making the grade according to the standard he set himself less than seven months ago, but even the so-called accomplishments of the squad have been achieved in a fashion reminiscent of past Israel teams we hoped we would never see again.
An early goal against Estonia and bunker tactics, which would soon become the trademark of Kashtan's team, got the national team's qualifying campaign off to a winning start.
An easy victory against Andorra's pub team in the next match gave the impression that 38 years without reaching a major tournament would end in 2008.
However, it soon became apparent that anybody reserving a flight to Austria and Switzerland had a cancellation fee coming their way. Israel somehow managed to grind out a 1-1 draw against Russia in Moscow in another poor performance, but the squad finally paid the price for its disappointing play five-and-a-half weeks later when Croatia schooled the national team in Ramat Gan. The hosts were lucky to escape with a 4-3 defeat in a match for which a 4-0 scoreline would have been more appropriate.
Ahead of the qualifier against England, a fresh wave of optimism had many believing that this is Israel's chance of getting its qualifying campaign back on track. However, even though a draw against a superior team is generally a good result, on Saturday Israel foolishly played for a single point in a match it had to win.
Even if in its remaining qualifying matches, Israel defeats Estonia and Andorra at home (likely) and also manages to get the better of Macedonia's underrated team twice (unlikely), it will need to claim two more victories from three remaining matches - against Russia in Ramat Gan, Croatia in Zagreb and England at Wembley - to have a good chance of advancing.
The bottom line is that Israel's prospects of reaching Euro 2008 range somewhere between tiny and insignificant. But if you are more optimistic than me, why not make some money out of it?
Israel's odds to win Group E are 50-to-1.
Allon Sinai is Deputy Sports Editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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