yossi benayoun 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
For better or for worse, any hope Israel has of defeating England on Saturday night rests squarely on the shoulders of Yossi Benayoun.
The 26-year-old midfielder is undoubtedly the most skilled Israeli player of his generation. Ever since he made his debut for the national team in 1998, Benayoun has been the brain, heart and soul of the side and has scored 14 goals in 55 international appearances.
That's the good news.
Now to the bad. Since Dror Kashtan began his tenure as coach in the summer of 2006, Benayoun's performance level has dropped dramatically.
Despite scoring twice in Israel's first four Euro 2008 qualification matches, the West Ham player has failed to showcase his full talent for the blue-and-white. This may be due to the extra attention he gets from opponents or possibly because he is simply suffering from a dip in form.
Whatever the reason, Israel will need Benayoun at his dazzling best to succeed on Saturday.
Benayoun enters the match in a less-than-ideal situation. The midfielder hasn't played a competitive game in four weeks because of a knee injury, and will also need to get the better of three of the world's finest at the same position. Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Owen Hargreaves will be instructed to watch out for Israel's captain and will be keeping tabs on him, wherever and whenever he breaks forward.
A superhuman effort is needed from Benayoun, but if anyone can do it he can. He is the one Israeli player whose proven attacking abilities can measure up against England's best.
Benayoun faces the English stars week in and week out at West Ham and has shown that he is fearless, even against physically superior players. The midfielder almost single-handedly led Israel to an unbeaten World Cup qualifying campaign and only he has the capability to help the team mount a serious campaign to qualify for next year's European championship by finishing first or second in qualification Group E.
Any chance Israel has of claiming a victory on Saturday begins and ends with Benayoun. The team is built around him and rises or falls with him.
The stage is set for one of the biggest nights of his career. Benayoun, now it's all up to you.