Over-reliance on Zahavi an issue for Israel

Star striker misses penalty kick against Scotland as blue-and-white eliminated from European Championship contention.

Israel's Eran Zhavi vs Scotand (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel's Eran Zhavi vs Scotand
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On Thursday night, we found out that Eran Zahavi is mortal just like every other player on the Israel National team.
When EZ7 missed his critical spot kick in the penalty shootout, the blue-and-white was done. It didn’t matter that Zahavi was Israel’s first shooter – he set the tone despite the rest of his teammates, Nir Bitton, Shon Weissman and Muhammed Abu Fani, all making theirs.
Scotland saw the door crack open just a bit and made sure to push it wide open as each of its five shooters made sure to bury their chances to secure a 5-3 victory in penalties after the teams had played to a goalless draw in their Euro playoff semifinal duel.
But was this Israel’s downfall? No. Absolutely not.
Israel’s failure was its over-reliance on a single player – Zahavi – pinning its entire hopes on one individual to take it to the promised land, what would be a first major tournament since the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
Zahavi is certainly the star of the show and without him Israel doesn’t even sniff the chance of advancing, but that’s exactly the problem and it has to change.
Willi Ruttensteiner, who stepped away from his job as sports director of the National Team and took over as coach until the end of the year, has done an admirable job of bringing in younger blood and new life into the squad. However, he’s still working on it as Manor Solomon, Ilay Elmkies, Shon Weissman and Muhammed Abu Fani have entered the fray but are still very young.
“We wanted to have other players scoring and there were opportunities, but if Zahavi doesn’t score we are in trouble,” said Ruttensteiner.
Israel had to ride Zahavi as far as it could, there’s no question about that. He brought the blue-and-white to Scotland and it was going to live and die by him no matter what. But Israel has to continue the youth movement that we have seen recently. That will lead the team to the success that it so desperately desires.
The key is talent development.
Captain Bibras Natcho understands that exact point with his postgame remarks: “Hopefully we will have other Eran Zahavis so we can really reach the highest of heights.”
One of those potential future Zahavis” is Solomon, who sat on the field in tears following the crushing defeat to Scotland. He spoke about how he had wanted to finally find the back of the goal, but he’s still looking for his first marker with the blue-and-white.
“Zahavi is the biggest winner that I know,” Solomon stated after the game, knowing exactly what Zahavi means to the team. “I consoled him and I said that without him we would have never gotten to this point.”
Veteran Bitton echoed the same exact thoughts that his teammates had,
“Let’s be real here, without Zahavi we would never be here.”
But that needs to change and change fast should Israel want to continue its progression.
Ruttensteiner needs to be retained as coach heading into 2021 while more and more players need to leave the friendly confines of Israel and head to the leading soccer countries, Germany, Spain, England and Italy. That will be the only way for the National Team to improve and become a threat on the European and world stage.
Zahavi himself knows that the squad is on the right path despite the massive letdown.
“Of course there is disappointment. We were there, we made it. We got to penalties and we suffered from bad luck. But the country has to be proud of the national team. There is a great mix of veterans and younger players and all of those who have watched us play can be proud.
“Advancing to the Euros would be a miracle, we aren’t there yet, but we are on our way there. We are on the right path and that needs to be continued. I am proud to be a part of this process.”
The 33-year old just moved to clubs and will be playing in the Dutch league for PSV which will certainly invigorate him with new life. Zahavi may be the anchor, but the youth movement must continue. The youth is the future.
Like Zahavi said, this is a process and the Israel Football Association must trust that process to eventually see results. There hasn’t been this type of talent and hope around the team for quite some time and that needs to be built upon and not torn down.