The Israel National Soccer Team gets back into action after the summer break with a critical pair of Euro 2024 qualifiers that may very well determine if the blue-and-white will head to Germany next summer for the continental championship.
Head coach Alon Hazan’s squad will visit Romania on Saturday night and then host Belarus back in the Holy Land on Tuesday. Israel will look to improve on its 2-1-1 record, good for seven points in Group I, which places it behind first-place Switzerland with 10 points and Romania, with eight points after the opening four matches.
The Israelis’ campaign that began in March, started on the wrong foot as they drew at home with Kosovo and then fell to Switzerland. However, in the June window, the blue-and-white got back on track with a pair of victories against Belarus and Andorra.
With the upcoming pair of contests, along with another two in October and then in November, there is no question that Hazan wants to begin this stretch of six games in roughly 10 weeks with victories.
Plenty of expectations for the Israel National Team
Israel, which has never qualified for the European Championships, will look to do so for the first time, especially after the stellar summers of the Under-20 side at the World Cup and the U21ers, who punched their ticket to the 2024 Summer Olympics while advancing all the way to the semifinals at their European Championship in Georgia.
Ahead of the match against Romania in Bucharest, Hazan looked ahead to the challenges that his squad will face as it looks to make history.
“We feel good about the squad that is available and these two games are very important. Critical they are not, because even if we win it won’t finish off our campaign. We want to play and win in order to reach our goal of advancing to the Euros.”
Forward Liel Abada, who plies his trade for Celtic in Scotland agrees with his coach.
“There’s a good feeling around the national team. We have a truly important mission ahead of us and we’re here putting in our best to accomplish it. We believe in our abilities and it doesn’t matter if we are at home or on the road. The staff is preparing us as best as possible and I’m certain that we will be able to do what we need to.
“This is a very talented national team with some young players as well as veterans,” Abada added. “I don’t believe that if we win or lose to Romania that will decide if we will advance to the Euro or not, but that’s our ultimate goal. We are taking this campaign game by game.”
Israel will once again be without the nation’s most prolific striker in Eran Zahavi, who was not called into the squad by the National Team brass including sporting director Yossi Benayoun, who has had a number of disagreements with the Maccabi Tel Aviv star due to his desire to have his own room the night before a match.
That will leave Hazan with a serious issue concerning the strikers who were called up for duty as, for the most part, they have not been playing regularly for their club teams, which is undoubtedly an undesirable situation with two crucial clashes coming up.
“Dor Turgeman [who starred for both the U20 and U21 squads this summer] is not bad at all, Tai Baribo [playing for MLS side Philadelphia Union] has been given minutes the last few games while Granada striker Shon Weissman is in a tough situation and is not playing very much. I don’t know who I will use, but we do have some good players. Dean David [of Maccabi Haifa] and Turgeman are playing and the latter has done some great stuff this summer with the youth national teams and Maccabi. We trust every player that will be available.”
Abada, who can also be counted on to pick up some of the scoring slack, believes that whoever has been called up will be able to do what is needed to succeed.
“I believe that the players that are here with the National Team are good enough and I’m sure that we will score goals as well.”
There’s no question that Romania will be a tough opponent for Israel, and Hazan knows full well that his side will need to be focused on the task at hand.
“Romania is a good national team. Their last game, which was a 2-2 draw against Switzerland, can be split up into two. There were parts of the game where it looked like Switzerland was going to win, but Romania came back to draw. This shows what Romania can do and we respect every opponent that we play.”
On the defensive end of the pitch, Hazan will be able to count on Hapoel Beersheba captain and veteran central defender Miguel Vitor.
“He brings a tremendous amount of experience and can settle down the players that are around him. Another important player for us will be Eli Dasa, who I can always count on. He is one of the anchors of this team and is in good playing shape. While I want to have younger players on the squad, and if they show their quality they can be called up, we will have a solid mix of both veterans and newcomers.”
One of those newer players is goalkeeper Daniel Peretz, who recently moved to Bayern Munich from Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“Peretz has made a huge move on the scale of Israeli soccer and I don’t believe that we have ever seen a transfer like this before, especially in terms of a ’keeper. He was an excellent shot-stopper even before his move and we also have Omri Glazer, who moved from Hapoel Beersheba to Red Star Belgrade. He is a fantastic ’keeper and we are very happy for him as well as we have a very firm hierarchy in place.”
Abada knows that there are plenty of expectations for the Israel National Team and he, along with the rest of the players on the squad. aren’t going to hide from that fact.
“Every player has expectations, especially if one is playing abroad or at one of the big teams in the country. We are fully aware of that and we are here with the goal of succeeding.”