Israel soccer team 311.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Israel captain Yossi Benayoun is hopeful he will be able to contribute to the
national team from the bench when the blue-and-white resumes its Euro 2012
qualifying campaign against Latvia at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday
The 30-year-old Chelsea midfielder has been sidelined since last
October with an Achilles injury but has recently returned to training with the
English powerhouse and said on Thursday that he can play a role as a substitute
in the must-win qualifiers against Latvia on Saturday and Georgia next
“I haven’t come here to be a cheerleader,” Benayoun
“I’m here to help the team. At the moment I’m not ready to play 90
minutes, but I can play 20 to 30 minutes at a high level. The coach and I will
decide together the best course of action.”
Israel coach Luis Fernandez
believes he will be able to use Benayoun at some capacity.
100 percent fit, but he has been practicing with Chelsea for a month and when
you train at a club like Chelsea you have to be pretty fit,” the Frenchman said
“He won’t be able to start the matches, but he will be able
to end them and help us. I will speak with him and we will decide together what
to do. Benayoun is a very important player and he wants to help, so I think he
can play 20-30 minutes.”
Israel is currently in fourth position in Group
F of Euro 2012 qualifying with four points from four matches, having lost its
last two encounters in October to group leaders Croatia and Greece by a 2-1
Latvia, which like Israel has also lost to Croatia and Greece
while drawing with Georgia and claiming its one and only win over Malta, has got
fond memories from its last visit to Israel, beating the blue-and-white 1-0 at
National Stadium in Ramat Gan in September 2009 to end the team’s hopes of
advancing to the 2010 World Cup.
“We are facing an opponent which has
already won in Israel and we mustn’t forget that this is a team which we failed
to beat in the last campaign,” Fernandez said. “Latvia is a disciplined side
which has a lot of potential.
We have studied them carefully and I’m
certain that it is going to be a very tough and complicated match. But I believe
that with the support of the fans we can win this match.
“We still want
to finish the group in second position, but for that to happen we will have to
win our next two qualifiers.”
Benayoun is wary of Latvia, but is
desperate to keep alive Israel’s hopes of reaching the European
“We all saw what happened the last time we played Latvia,
so we will have to give our best to take all three points,” the captain said.
“If we win the next two qualifiers we will know better where we
Israel will be without Eran Zahavi after the Hapoel Tel Aviv
midfielder was cut from the squad on Tuesday for showing a “lack of respect” to
the national team according to the Israel Football Association.
who has been one of the rising stars of Israeli soccer over the past couple of
seasons, was given permission to take part in a family celebration on Monday
night, but despite being told to return to the team’s hotel by midnight, he
never slept at the hotel and didn’t even show up for the team breakfast on
In his absence, Fernandez is expected to start in the
midfield with Biram Kiyal, Lior Rafaelov and Bibras Natcho.
and Omer Damari will play up-front, with Fernandez likely opting for a
five-player defensive formation.
Dudu Aouate will once more stand in
goal, with Tal Ben- Haim, Dekel Keinan and Rami Gershon to play in the center of
defense. Elroei Cohen or Yoav Ziv will likely start on the right side of the
defense while 18- year-old Taleb Tawatha is set to be handed his debut on the
“We believe in our chances and we are determined to win,” Aouate
said. “Latvia gave us a tough time in the last campaign, but we learned from
those matches that we will have to be fully focused to take all three points
“There will be no excuse if we fail to win. We have already
lost a lot of points and this is our last chance to stay in contention.”