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(photo credit: AP)
Israel's triumphant Fed Cup team was all smiles on its return from Austria on Monday afternoon. The team, which defeated Austria 4-1 over the weekend to advance for the first time in its history to the competition's World Group, received a warm welcome by family members and fans, who wanted to see their heroes first hand.
"We've achieved something amazing, but I hope this is just the beginning," Israel No. 1 Shahar Pe'er said at Ben-Gurion Airport. "My biggest dream is to win the Fed Cup and I hope it will come true in the future."
The recurring theme in Monday's press conference was the hope that Israel will finally get to host a Fed Cup tie. A Fed Cup match hasn't been played in Israel since the blue-and-white defeated Lithuania 3-0 in March 1996.
"I really hope that our next tie will be played in Israel," team coach Lior Mor said. "The fans in Israel deserve to see the players with their own eyes and not just via the television. We can defeat any team at Ramat Hasharon."
Israel will not be ranked in the first round of the 2008 World Group and will face one of four ranked sides. The United States, Russia, Italy and France will likely be ranked and will each be a huge favorite should they be drawn against Israel.
Italy, which does not have a top-10 player, would, in theory, be the team Israel would like to face. The Italians, however, won the Fed Cup in 2006 and will play Russia in this year's final.
The United States has potentially the best team in the world, with the Williams sisters leading the side. The France team includes former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo and was the runner-up in the competition in 2004 and 2005. Russia has the deepest squad in the Fed Cup, with Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anna Chakvetadze and Nadia Petrova all ranked in the world's top 10.
"All our potential opponents are very strong," captain Oded Jacob said. "But we should first of all enjoy our recent success. Anyway, it's difficult to know how our squad will look in six months time."
"Our team has an ideal combination of experience and youth," he added. "That is what has taken us this far. Without this special blend, the coaches and the players would have never reached this moment."