It has been a while since Israel’s national soccer team has been this confident
ahead of such a crucial match.
The blue-and-white hosts Greece at
Bloomfield Stadium on Friday in a Euro 2012 qualifier it simply must win if it
has any hope of remaining in the hunt for a top-two finish in Group F, with the
group winner to qualify automatically and the second- place team to go into a
playoff for a place in the finals.
Some of Israel’s players have been
happy to speak about how optimistic they are feeling while others appear to be
wary of coming off arrogant, but let there be no doubt, Luis Fernandez’s squad
is all but certain it will win on Friday.
“We want to win and we can’t
picture any other scenario,” RCD Mallorca striker Tomer Hemed said on Monday.
“We have an excellent squad and if we don’t advance to the European
Championships it would be a failure.”
The Israeli players have plenty of
reasons to be feeling positive.
First, the national team is coming off
the back of three straight qualifying victories, although it is worth noting
that these wins were against Latvia and Georgia, teams not expected to
Second, not only is the squad largely made up of players plying
their trade in Europe, something unheard of until recently, these socalled
“legionnaires” are even becoming more than bit players abroad.
Shechter, for example, is already a regular for Kaiserslautern in the German
Bundesliga, while fellow striker Hemed has joined Dudu Aouate in Mallorca’s
starting lineup and Wisla Krakow’s Maor Melikson is surprisingly becoming a star
However, considering Israel has only qualified for a major
tournament once in its history – reaching the World Cup some 41 years ago –
Hemed is setting the bar quite high for the current side.
without even mentioning the fact that a win against Greece would far from
guarantee the national team a place in next summer’s tournament in Poland and
Despite only trailing group-leader Greece by a single point,
while being tied on 13 points with Croatia, Israel finds itself in an awkward
position as it has played one match more than its main rivals and faces an
extremely tough visit to Zagreb next Tuesday.
Even assuming it draws in
Croatia and beats Malta in its final qualifier, picking up seven out of a
possible nine points from its remaining matches, the national team will likely
finish no higher than second, progressing to a difficult two-legged playoff
against a second-place finisher from one of the other groups.
things first, it has to defeat Greece. And despite the squad’s almost
unprecedented self belief, that is far from a foregone conclusion.
wide-ranging match-fixing scandal and the financial crisis in the country has
seen Greek soccer suffer, something which was evident in Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 4-2
aggregate victory over Panathinaikos in the Europa League playoffs this
But that only tells part of the story.
The fact of the
matter is that Greece is the only unbeaten team in Group F and hasn’t lost to a
side the equivalent of Israel since 2005.
The Greeks only suffered two
defeats on their way to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, both coming at the
hands of Switzerland, while losing only once to Turkey on course to Euro
Let’s not forget that Israel and Greece have also played each other
three times over the past two-anda- half years, with one match ending in a draw
and the Greeks winning twice, including in Euro 2012 qualifying last
It is also easy to ignore the fact that the national team hasn’t
beaten a real rival for qualification for a major event since the 20th
Sure, Israel defeated Russia 2-1 in Euro 2008 qualifying when it
no longer had a chance to progress, but the last win in a meaningful encounter
over a superior opponent was the famous 5-0 thrashing of Austria in June
That victory sparked euphoria and confidence levels were remarkably
high ahead of the team’s playoff tie against Denmark for a place in Euro 2000,
somewhat like they are at the moment.
But it was soon followed by one of
the most painful defeats in Israel history, a 5-0 home humiliation at the hands
of the Danes.
I will go out on a limb here and guarantee that Israel will
not lose 5-0 to Greece on Friday.
In fact, I feel that the blue-andwhite
is the slight favorite in Bloomfield.
However, the current
over-confidence is both wrong and delusional.
“I think it is time that we
say the truth, we are better than Greece and we should beat them,” Israel
defender Tal Ben-Haim told Sport5.
“I think that if you compare the
squads we are better in every position.”
Let’s hope Ben-Haim and his
teammates can back up their brash talking on the field.
nothing so far to suggest that will be the email@example.com