Ukraine pays Gutman’s Israel a friendly visit

Benayoun looks to reward new coach’s loyalty with resurgent performance before home fans.

By
February 29, 2012 07:00
2 minute read.
Eli Gutman guides Israel for the first time

Eli Gutman 390. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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The Eli Gutman era officially gets underway on Wednesday night when Israel’s new coach guides the national team for the first time in its international friendly against Ukraine in Petah Tikva.

Israel doesn’t get down to real business until September 7 when its visits Azerbaijan in its first 2014 World Cup qualifier. But blue-and-white fans will be looking forward to Wednesday’s encounter against the co-host of Euro 2012 to see what changes will be brought about by Gutman.

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There was much speculation that Yossi Benayoun might be demoted to a minor role considering his lack of playing time for Arsenal this season.

However, the 31-year-old midfielder impressed in Arsenal’s 5-2 Premier League win over Tottenham on Sunday and will captain the blue-and-white once more on Wednesday.

“Anyone who saw Benayoun’s last match should have no doubt about his current form,” Gutman said on Tuesday.

“As far as I’m concerned, Yossi has got a long way to go until the end of his international career.”

Benayoun is expected to start Wednesday’s game as part of a five-man midfield, which will also include the defensive- orientated Bibras Natcho and Almog Cohen and the more attacking Lior Rafaelov and Maor Melikson.

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Elyaniv Barda is set to start up front as a lone striker, but Gutman’s biggest problem as he gets ready for Israel’s qualifying campaign will be to build a cohesive back four.

Dudu Aouate will retain his place in goal, with Tal Ben-Haim and Rami Gershon to start in the center of defense and Yuval Spungin and Dedi Ben- Dayan to play on the right and left flanks, respectively.

None of Premier League leader Ironi Kiryat Shmona’s five call ups is expected to start, but several could be handed their debuts off the bench in the second half.

“Kiryat Shmona has had an amazing season and every player in the squad deserves to be here,” Benayoun said. “I still can’t say if this is my last campaign. There are matters that are out of my control, but as long as the coach wants me I will be more than happy to represent Israel.”

Betar to play three matches away from Teddy for fan trouble

Betar Jerusalem’s hopes of Premier League survival were handed another blow on Tuesday when the Israel Football Association’s disciplinary court sentenced it to host three matches away from Teddy Stadium following its fans’ unruliness.

Betar, which dropped into the relegation zone over the weekend, was penalized for two separate incidents, for a fan hurling a coffee cup at the referee’s assistant during the match against Maccabi Tel Aviv and the second coming just this past Sunday when its supporters lit a flare towards the end of the encounter at Maccabi Haifa.

The court also fined Betar NIS 30,000 and ordered it to close the east stand of Teddy for the match against Bnei Yehuda in two weeks time.

“This is an outrageous punishment,” Betar said in a statement. “It is completely senseless. All season the team has suffered heavy punishments despite the club’s ongoing fight against violence and racism.

“This sentence shows again that the IFA courts discriminate against Betar. This ruling seriously hurts the team’s chances of survival. There is a sense that the IFA and its courts have decided to determine the identity of the teams to be relegated in the court rather than the field.”

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