Israel plays Albania on Saturday night at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv in the final game of Nations League group stage action as the blue-and-white will look to put itself into position to take part in the playoff round of the competition for a spot in the 2024 European Championship.
The blue-and-white – which is in League B, Group 2 with only two other teams, Iceland and Albania, due to Russia being suspended from the competition – will also play a friendly at Malta on Tuesday night.
Head coach Alon Hazan’s team will not have its strongest available squad at his disposal due to the controversy surrounding the exclusion of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Eran Zahavi and his desire to have kept a single hotel room.
Hoffenheim striker Monas Dabbur’s departure from national team duty also will have an impact, while Fulham midfielder Manor Solomon’s injury and the fact that the Under-21 team is playing in the playoffs of European Championship qualification, also affects the composition of the squad.
However, Hazan and Technical Director Yossi Benayoun put together an interesting group of players, which includes veteran captain Bibras Natcho who is playing in Serbia with Partizan Belgrade, Dinamo Moscow defender Eli Dasa and Real Valladolid striker Shon Weissman.
Weissman faces golden opportunity
“Being the number one striker is going to be the professional staff’s decision.”Real Valladolid striker Shon Weissman
The La Liga frontman, Weissman, who has scored 27 goals in 71 appearances in Spain, will be given his first real chance to take over the scoring prowess from the jettisoned Zahavi and the retired Dabbur as Israel will look to the Valladolid forward to supply the offense in the critical continental matchup.
Ahead of Saturday night’s clash Weissman, who has 23 caps and three markers for Israel, spoke about the challenges that are facing the team ahead of the game as well as the chance to be the first-choice striker for the national team.
“Being the number one striker is going to be the professional staff’s decision,” Weissman began. “I’m here to help the national team and I will do everything in my power to win and help to finish in first place. I’m healthy and the injury that I had incurred earlier is now behind me. I hope that I can do whatever needs to be done.”
Weissman knows that there was a change in the make-up of the national team, but he feels confident that the staff knows what it is doing in trying to help the team be a unified force and make it to the next stage of the Nations League.
“The players that are here are the best in the country. The staff meticulously chose the players who all deserve to be here. I hope that we can do what is needed and follow the staff’s directions and instructions, and God-willing we will succeed. As for those that are missing, that’s part of life.
“There are players who are injured, or some can’t play due to yellow-card accumulation and we will have to deal with what we have. There is nothing that we can do to change the situation and like I said, I really believe that whoever is here right now is the best and the most appropriate.”
Weissman looks at this to be a golden opportunity, one that he has waited for some time, and with that he will do the best that he can and not feel that he is under pressure.
“I don’t feel any type of pressure. I waited for this chance, the moment where I would be the preferred striker, and if that will be the case I will have no pressure as I love to play soccer. This is what I have been doing since I was little and I hope to keep playing for many more years, as long as I possibly can.”
Prior to heading abroad, Weissman played with Maccabi Haifa, which is having a banner year and playing in the Champions League.
“It’s really amazing and I am very happy for my friends that are there. It’s just great to see their success which brings a lot of positivity, honor and pride to our country. I hope that they can continue this way.”
Despite having some issues circulating around the national team, Weissman feels that with previous experiences, Israel should still be able to reach the top of the soccer world.
“We have shown that we can beat Albania and we have proven that we are a good team. We will do everything in our power to make sure that we come into this game as prepared as possible. There is only one goal here. I would be very happy to see many Israeli flags in the Bloomfield stands and that this will be an incredible experience for everyone. We are expecting this and I really believe in the national team. As for Manor Solomon not being able to play, it’s really too bad and I hope he gets well soon and comes back as soon as he can. I feel really bad for him and we all wish he could be here with us.”