Israel has slim hopes ahead of final qualifiers

With two games remaining against Austria and Faroe Islands, blue-and-white will need minor miracle to keep World Cup dreams alive

 ERAN ZAHAVI & CO. will aim to finish off their World Cup group qualifying with a pair of wins against Austria and Faroe Islands and then pray for other results to fall in their favor. (photo credit: REUTERS)
ERAN ZAHAVI & CO. will aim to finish off their World Cup group qualifying with a pair of wins against Austria and Faroe Islands and then pray for other results to fall in their favor.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The Israel National Team will play the final two games of its World Cup qualification campaign over the next few days when it takes on Austria in Klagenfurt on Friday night and then hosts Faroe Islands at the Netanya Stadium on Monday evening.

The blue-and-white is still mathematically in the hunt for second place in Group F, which will punch its ticket to the playoff round, however, not only does coach Willi Ruttensteiner’s team need to win both its remaining games, but it will also need other results to fall favorably to move on.

Israel currently finds itself in third place with 13 points with Denmark at the top with a perfect record of eight wins in eight games, good for 24 points, while Scotland is in second place with 17 points. Austria is three points behind Israel with 10 as Faroe Islands and Moldova are in the last two places to round out the group.

Should Israel win its last two matches, it will finish with 19 points and will need Scotland to drop points at Moldova and then at home in Glasgow. The chances are slim.

A third-place finish would still be a positive result after beginning the qualifying campaign ranked fourth in the group.

This would allow the National Team to play stiffer competition in Nations League action, which would be a plus to continue to test its mettle against teams that are ranked above it.

Ruttensteiner looked ahead to the challenge at hand with optimism as Israel tries to reach its first major International tournament since the 1970 Mexico World Cup.

“The two games left against Austria and Faroe Islands will be a huge challenge and while there is still a slim chance to finish in second place, it’s even more important for me to show everyone how we finish the campaign. I want to see the character of a winning team and that everyone does the maximum in these two matches.

“The standings are important but it doesn’t tell the entire story. The journey we have been on, and the process, has been most important along with what we can do in the two final contests. I want to see a hungry national team that wants to take these last six points.”

Currently Israel sits in 80th place in the FIFA World Rankings and that is a number which Ruttensteiner very much wants to improve upon.

“We need to have the hunger of also moving up in the world rankings. That hunger must be more than other football associations, and of course against Austria. The Israel national team needs to collect six points. I will drive this process with the players and staff over these two games. We have no excuses as we go to the end of the campaign. Once we end, I will analyze the process.”

 ISRAEL EARNED a 2-1 victory over Moldova in World Cup qualifying late Tuesday night in what was likely a case of too little, too late. (credit: BERNEY ARDOV) ISRAEL EARNED a 2-1 victory over Moldova in World Cup qualifying late Tuesday night in what was likely a case of too little, too late. (credit: BERNEY ARDOV)

Ruttensteiner will be returning to his homeland of Austria for this game, which has added yet another twist to the storyline for the bench boss.

“Going to Austria is difficult and playing them in their homeland won’t be easy. I want to see true passion from everyone. We are not a small association. We are a brave team with proper body language and most importantly I want everyone to give it their all for the national team as we still have a small chance to get to second place. That is our goal, while third place would also be very good in my eyes.”

The last time the two squads squared off against one another was in Haifa back in September, when Israel ran wild with a dominant 5-2 win. Since that game, Israel had to play both Denmark and Scotland on the road and the result in both those games was not what Ruttensteiuner wanted.

“We scored five goals against Austria at home two months ago. Then at Denmark we played in front of a full stadium and played 30 good minutes before falling and then we played 60 good minutes in Scotland in a full stadium. Hopefully we will take the next step in Austria and play a full 90 minutes of quality soccer.”

Israel boasts some high-quality players. Eran Zahavi, at PSV in Holland, Monas Dabbur, at Hoffenheim in Germany and Manor Solomon, at Shakhtar Donetsk in the Ukraine, all play with top level clubs and continue to infuse addictive enthusiasm within the national team. There are some other players who are on the cusp of making an impact, including youngster Liel Abada who plays his club soccer at Celtic as well as Shon Weissman who plies his trade with Real Valladolid in Spain’s second division, but minutes are limited.

“They are playing at a high level and we are very proud that we can have them with the squad,” said Ruttensteiuner. We are focusing on the two games and we will count the points at the end and then we will evaluate everything, including how the young players are progressing and where we are. Abada helped get a goal for us against Faroe Islands, but we have a lot of good players coming up for Israel and we don’t have a place for everyone.”