(photo credit: REUTERS)
Just four days after beginning its 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, the
Israel national team could see its dreams of playing in Brazil in two years time
all but end should it fail to defeat Russia at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on
The 1-1 draw in Baku against Azerbaijan on Friday was an
unexpected early setback for the blue-and-white, which is hoping to finish among
the top two in Group F, which also includes Portugal, Northern Ireland and
Only the group winner will automatically qualify for the
World Cup in Brazil, while the eight-best runners-up from the nine qualifying
groups will play-off for the remaining four spots.
Israel’s chances of
reaching the World Cup for the first time since 1970 were considered to be
extremely slim even before the start of the campaign, but they will be virtually
non-existent if Eli Gutman’s men don’t beat Russia at home.
blue-and-white is still looking for its first win under Gutman, losing three and
drawing one of its four friendly matches before Friday’s stalemate in
Israel’s desperately poor play in those matches also gives
little reason for optimism ahead of Tuesday, but Gutman is confident his team
will display a significant improvement.
“I expect us to play better than
we did against Azerbaijan, even though Russia is clearly a better team,” Gutman
said on Monday. “Russia’s strength is in its midfield and we will play
accordingly. I plan to play a 4-3-3 formation, with three holding midfielders
and three attacking players. All of my decisions are professional ones and my
only goal is that the team’s play will improve.”
Gutman is expected to
make at least three changes to the lineup which could only manage a 1-1 draw
Dudu Aouate will continue in goal, while Yuval Spungin
and Yoav Ziv will start a second straight match on the right and left sides of
the defense, respectively.
There will be a change in the center of the
defense, with Tal Ben-Haim returning from suspension to replace Dan Mori and
team-up with Eitan Tibi.
Captain Yossi Benayoun will return to the
starting 11 after surprisingly being dropped from the team for the match against
Azerbaijan, likely taking the place of Maor Melikson.
Gutman is leaning
towards using a lineup with three defensive midfielders, meaning Bibras Natcho,
who scored Israel’s goal in Baku, will be joined in the center of the field by
debutant Maharan Radi and Almog Cohen, who looks set to get the nod ahead of Gal
Maccabi Haifa’s Hen Ezra is expected to be Israel’s second
attacking midfielder with Benayoun, while Itay Shechter is the favorite to start
as the lone striker, although Gutman may eventually opt for Tomer
“We should have beaten Azerbaijan, but we failed to do so and we
need to cope with the criticism,” Shechter said.
“Benayoun is our Pillar
of Fire and I’m sure he will put on a show in this match.I call on the
fans to come to the match despite the disappointment from the draw with
Azerbaijan. We are the only national team they have so they should come
and cheer us on.”
Russia didn’t impress in its group opener against
Northern Ireland on Friday, but it still claimed a 2-0 win and will be looking
to avenge its 2-1 defeat to Israel when the teams last met in November
Russia replaced Dutch coach Dick Advocaat with former England coach
Fabio Capello following the team’s group stage exit at Euro 2012 and the
Italian’s goal will be to guide Russia back to the World Cup for the first time
The Israel Football Association has handed out over 6,000
free tickets to soldiers and children in the hope that Ramat Gan Stadium will be
at least half full, but Benayoun believes that those blue-and-white fans who do
attend the match can help push the team to rebound from Friday’s
“I think every match is crucial,” said Benayoun. “Clearly we
wanted to take all three points in Azerbaijan, but that didn’t happen and we now
need to focus on Russia.
“We need to do everything to win this match and
if we manage to do that we will be right back in contention.” Benayoun brushed
aside any suggestion that he is under particular pressure after not starting
“We are not machines and we also have some bad days,”
“I’m not afraid of this match and I believe in our team.
All that is left for us to do is to give our best and hope that is enough.”
On TV: Israel vs Russia (live on Channel 1 at 8 p.m.)