The Last Word: How to get over the qualification blues

After the disaster of the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign it is time for a realistic and driven new beginning.

February 12, 2010 06:48
3 minute read.
The Last Word: How to get over the qualification blues

jeremy last better pic. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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On Tuesday it was former Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard, and by Thursday ex-Bayern Munich and Germany manager Jurgen Klinssman.

At least we are heading in the right direction, unlikely as it is that either of these bonafide world superstars will take up IFA chairman Avi Luzon’s offer of a job coaching the Israel national team (and assuming the rumors that they are being considered for the post are to be believed.)

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After the disaster of the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign it is time for a new beginning, one which is both realistic and driven.

When the draw for the 2012 European Championships qualifying groups was made on Sunday, the groans could be heard across the country. Just like two years ago, Israel was placed in an eminently winnable group, once again drawn to face Greece and Latvia as well as a Croatia team that had its confidence all but smashed when it failed to make it to South Africa.

One colleague begged me to avoid writing about how Israel’s task has been made easy, concerned that the media will put pressure on the players and make them believe qualification is expected.

But while the failure of soon-to-be-former-Israel-coach Dror Kashtan’s efforts to guide the national team to an international tournament for the first time since the 1970 World Cup was clearly a four-year period doused in regret, it appears to have instilled a healthy dose of realism, modesty and, dare I say, pride into the camp.

No longer do we have Luzon wildly commenting on how Israel “should” qualify, but rather the recently re-elected chairman has been more reserved in his judgements.

As has been stressed time and again, the responsibility for qualification must lie on the shoulders of the team coach, whoever he may be.

Israel’s top clubs have bred a group of talented young players, from Espanyol’s Ben Sahar to Maccabi Haifa’s Eyal Golasa and Hapoel Tel Aviv’s Gili Vermut. These players need to have combination of confidence and humility drummed into them by a coach who believes in his squad.

While somewhat surprising, the idea of a Rijkaard or a Klinssman coaching the team is not totally out of the question, especially if they were to combine the role with club management.

For some reason, managing a national team is generally considered a full-time job, even though 90 percent of the time is supposedly spent on preparation as only six or seven matches are played each year.

In basketball, meanwhile, it is rare for a national team coach not to have another club job.

If a top coach can be convinced to dedicate only a percentage of his time to Israel it would be an intriguing prospect which could have a dramatic effect.

It cannot be denied that Israel has as good a chance as any to at least make it through to the playoffs, if not finish first.

Yossi Benayoun has recently been in the form of his life for Liverpool but the captain must learn to transfer this in order to produce illuminating performances for the blue and white.

Betar Jerusalem duo Barak Itzhaki and Aviram Bruchian are another pair who have bags of potential and could be inspired by a coach with experience at the highest level.

Rijkaard, who won the Champions League with Barca, and Klinssman, who won the World Cup with Germany, have the knowledge and understanding which comes from working with the best.

If this kind of experience can be utilized by someone who is willing to put his all into the task, there is a chance some stunning results will be produced.

Considering the level of opponents in Group F, it is unlikely the Israel team will need to play stunning soccer, even to finish in first position. What is needed is a string of solid performances where the team is tight at the back, creative in midfield and accurate up front.

The coming weeks, while Luzon woos a coach, are therefore of critical importance. If he sticks to his guns and avoids resorting to an Israeli personality such as the frustratingly inexperienced, tempestuous and media-hungry Eyal Berkovic then we may well see the Israeli flag raised in Poland and Ukraine.

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