Blue-and-white gets another crack at Scotland

Ruttensteiner, Zahavi lead undermanned Israel into semifinal in Glasgow with Euro hopes on the line

ISRAEL WILL need forward Eran Zahavi to be in top form if it hopes to triumph on the road tonight against Scotland in the European Championships playoff semifinal. (photo credit: REUTERS/RONEN ZEVULUN)
ISRAEL WILL need forward Eran Zahavi to be in top form if it hopes to triumph on the road tonight against Scotland in the European Championships playoff semifinal.
The Israel National Team faces Scotland in Glasgow on Thursday night in one of the European Championships semifinals for a chance to play in the delayed 2020 Euro next summer.
The winner of the one-game semifinal will then play in the final of the mini-tournament slated for November against the victor of the second semifinal between Norway and Serbia.
Following the match in Glasgow, the blue-and-white will then return to Israel for World Cup Nations League clashes against the Czech Republic at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa and then at Slovakia later next week.
In a pregame press conference, Israel head coach Willi Ruttensteiner made it clear that he is focused on one goal and one goal only.
“We are focusing only on the semifinal game against Scotland and that is our only focus,” said Ruttensteiner. That is our only goal, to win that game. We aren’t looking at the other two games against Czech Republic and Slovakia.”
Last month, the blue-and-white played the Tartan Army at Hampden Park in a Nations League tilt that ended in a 1-1 draw thanks to a tying goal by Eran Zahavi. While Israel’s bench boss doesn’t know how much that game will actually help his team this time around due to potential changes in formations, he is very upbeat at the challenge ahead.
“It’s very difficult to say what they will be doing. I’m more focused on my team and our qualities and on what we can do and how we want to beat Scotland. That is what we want to try to do with the team. Our chances are 50/50 and we have to take it. This is a chance for Israeli football. We will discuss and work on it and bring some new and surprising elements. I do believe that with good preparation we can beat Scotland.”
There’s no question that Zahavi is Israel’s main goal scoring threat as the striker continues to fill the net for the national team and now PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch League as well. Zahavi recently moved from his club team in China, Guangzhou R&F, to the Eredivisie and made an instant impact for his new team. He scored first goal and assisted on the second in PSV’s 2-0 win over Rosenborg in a Europa League playoff contest for a ticket to the group stages of the continental competition.
Zahavi then played a domestic league game on Sunday in which he assisted on the first goal of a 2-0 win over Fortuna Sittard.
“For me, he’s crazy,” said Ruttensteiner of his 33-year-old star. “I had a phone call with him and he said that he will play both games ahead of the national team on Thursday and Sunday and that would be the best preparation. I wanted him to ask the coach and ask him to only play a half, but he said that he knows what to do.
“We have a wonderful striker [in Zahavi] here in Israel. The decision for him to sign with PSV was a good one and he discussed it with me. With coach Roger Schmidt he’s in a good environment, it was a good decision and good decision for the national team.”
Israel will be without numerous players who featured with the team last month due to them contracting COVID-19.
Dor Peretz, Dan Glazer, Yonatan Cohen, Avi Rikan and Taleb Tawhatha will all be unavailable for the match due to being infected. Ruttensteiner knows how much their contribution will be missed ahead of the do-or-die game.
“I was very emotional when I spoke to the Maccabi Tel Aviv players and Taleb Tawhatha who could have been able to play in the semifinal. I was very sad that they can’t be a part of the team after they have helped us get to this point.
“But the most important part is the health of the players. I was able to find some good players to fill in their paces and it could be a step for the future. I had wanted to invite Eyal Golasa for some time and it wasn’t possible to have him in September due to personal reasons but now I have him with the team.”
Another challenge ahead of the Scotland clash is the fact that the Israeli government has not allowed the local league teams to practice and play games over the past couple of weeks due to the high level of coronavirus infections across the country.
However, Ruttensteiner understands the importance of the government’s decision, looking after the health and welfare of its citizens.
Football being stopped isn’t good and it’s sad because the ball should run. But the decision is from the government and it’s for the good of the people. We have to do our best under the conditions. I think we have a good team and it’s up to my staff to prepare the team. I want to see the results on Thursday as to what we prepared all week long. If we can avoid mistakes, we can win the game, but 99.9% won’t be enough.”