The Last Word: Israel's soccer players must keep their feet on the ground

With the lack of confidence in the England squad there has never been a better time to play the 3 Lions.

September 7, 2007 07:54
3 minute read.
The Last Word: Israel's soccer players must keep their feet on the ground

jeremy last 88. (photo credit: )


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There is an extremely positive feeling in the Israel camp that has settled itself into the plush surroundings of the Sopwell House Hotel in St Albans just outside of London. The team, especially its younger members, are appearing relaxed and somewhat delighted to have the opportunity to play against England at one of the temples of soccer - Wembley Stadium. Despite the cautious attitude of captain Yossi Benayoun and coach Dror Kashtan, many of the Israel players who have spoken to the press since arriving in England on Tuesday have seemed sure that they have a good chance of winning the crucial Euro 2008 qualifier Saturday afternoon. From young right back Yuval Shprungin to substitute strikers Pini Balili and Elyaniv Barda, the message has been loud and clear: England is there for the taking. To an extent this is true. With the lack of confidence in the England squad, the massive pressure on the English to get a result and the increasing number of injured players, there has never been a better time to play England. It was one thing when Wayne Rooney was ruled out injured, but for England fans to know they will have to cope without the talismanic Steve Gerrard, super-striker Peter Crouch, Chelsea's Frank Lampard, regular right back Gary Neville and now, perhaps, also Owen Hardgreaves, has rightly raised concerns. The embarrassing managerial style of coach Steve McClaren constantly proves that the FA made a massive mistake choosing him to replace Sven Goran Erikkson. McClaren resembles US President George W. Bush when he speaks to the media, often looking like he is chuckling to himself about quite serious situations and then coming out with ridiculous comments. If the situation wasn't bad enough for England it has not been helped by McClaren mixing his boring repetitive remarks with confidence-bashing techniques, such as when he said he wasn't sure which goalkeeper would play since Paul Robinson had made so many mistakes in recent matches. So the signs are good for the Israeli team. But, and this is a big but, the players pulling on the blue and white uniform this weekend need to realize that however low the confidence is, however much pressure there is on the England team and however many players are out injured, this makeshift England squad is still head and shoulders above any team Israel can put out. Optimism is one thing, but Israel's players must make sure they keep their feet on the ground. This is not Estonia they are playing. Any player who has been picked by McClaren has made it into the squad on merit. Every player plays week in, week out, in the English Premiership, a league that makes the Israeli league look amateur. While Emile Heskey has rarely impressed in recent years, he has a wealth of international experience and was a key member of the Liverpool team for a number of seasons. Michael Owen was injured until recently but displayed good form when he scored for Newcastle last weekend. And the younger players in the England squad such as Jolien Lescott and David Bentley will be keen to impress and may even play better than the players they replaced. Israel will also have to watch out for Chelsea's Joe Cole and Shaun Wright Phillips if they get to play, and Rio Ferdinand seems fired up after Idan Tal's comments on Wednesday. That said, it is clear that England has failed to perform in recent internationals, and it only takes a single chance to score a goal. Even if Roberto Coalutti does not recover on time, Barak Itzhaki has been on fire recently, grabbing a fine goal for Betar Jerusalem against Hapoel Tel Aviv two weeks ago. Yossi Benayoun will be the key to a good Israel performance. If Benayoun plays as well as he did for Liverpool against Toulouse in the recent Champions League game and Israel soaks up the early England pressure for the first half hour and comes out fighting in the second half, Israel fans may have something big to look forward to come Saturday night.

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