Israel on brink of securing spot in Euro 2016 playoff
Cyprus at home, Belgium away on tap for third-place blue-and-white in final Euro qualifiers.
By ALLON SINAI
On the face of it, Israel’s target seems quite simple. Pick up at least one point more than Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday and progress to a playoff tie for a place in Euro 2016.However, the reality is of course far more complicated. Israel will be confident of overcoming Cyprus at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on Saturday, but will also be hoping for a favor from Wales, which visits Bosnia.Israel sits in third place in Group B with 13 points, two points ahead of Bosnia.A blue-and-white win combined with a Bosnia draw or loss, or an Israel draw coupled with a Wales victory will see Eli Gutman’s men wrap up third position with a game to spare.Any other combination of results will mean third place will not be decided until the final group games next Tuesday.With Israel visiting Belgium in Brussels next week, while Bosnia goes to Cyprus for a far easier match, the national team will be desperately hoping it can already clinch its progress on Saturday.With Israel having the advantage of a two-point gap and the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Bosnians need to collect three more points than the blue-andwhite to finish in third. They will no longer be able to do so should Israel record a better result on Saturday.Bosnia should have star striker Edin Dzeko at its disposal on Saturday after he recovered from a knee injury far faster than expected. Dzeko was predicted to face up to six weeks on the sidelines after twisting his knee in AS Roma’s 5-1 Serie A win over Carpi on September 26.While it will be focused on overcoming Cyprus, Israel will be crossing its fingers for Wales in Zenica. Wales still needs one more point to qualify for its first major tournament since 1958 after drawing 0-0 with Israel in their previous qualifier. Even should the Welsh lose at Bosnia, they will in all certainty clinch their qualification when they cap the campaign with a home match against Andorra.“We will not be following the match in Bosnia because we have no influence on its outcome,” said Gutman. “We need to focus on our match. Cyprus is a tough team and they enter the match with a chance of finishing the group in third place. They never give up.”Israel beat Cyprus 2-1 in Nicosia in November, with goalkeeper Ofir Martziano making a late save to maintain the blue-and-white’s advantage.Martziano is set to play in goal once more on Saturday, with Maccabi Tel Aviv’s back-four of Eli Dasa, Tal Ben- Haim, Eitan Tibi and Omri Ben-Harush likely to start together for a second straight international. Beram Kayal is expected to replace the injured Bibras Natcho in the center of the field and play alongside Nir Bitton, with Eran Zahavi, Gili Vermouth and Tal Ben-Haim to feature in more attacking midfield roles. Munas Dabbur is the favorite to be the team’s lone striker.“Everyone is aware of the importance of this match,” said Vermouth.“Our campaign is on the line. Every player needs to think of positive and optimistic outcomes.”Gutman believes his players are ready for the task on hand.“We know exactly who we are facing and our team spirit is what is important,” said Gutman. “As a coach you never know when you are facing your moment of truth. It all depends on the result. After the match I will be able to say whether this was one of those moments.”
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