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ERAN ZAHAVI will have to be in top form once again as Israel visits Latvia and Poland this weekend in Euro 2020 qualifying. In the blue-and-white’s first two games, in March, Zahavi scored four total goals in a victory over Austria and a draw with Slovenia..(Photo by: REUTERS)
Israel resumes Euro qualifying campaign
Away encounters at Latvia and Poland next steps in blue-and-white’s ambitious objective.
The Israel national team will continue its Euro 2020 qualification campaign with two away games, at Latvia in Riga on Friday night and then against Poland in Warsaw on Monday evening. 
The blue-and-white got off to a positive start to the competition with a win at home over Austria and a draw against Slovenia at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa back in March. However, this time around head coach Andrea Herzog will be without star striker Moanes Dabour for both tilts as the newly minted Sevilla target man will be getting married. Eran Zahavi will be heavily relied upon up front, with the Guangzhou R&F star already notching four goals over the first to qualifiers.
Along with Zahavi, Herzog will have a choice of players to deploy up front, including Ben Sahar, Zahavi’s Guangzhou teammate Dia Saba or Shakhtar Donetsk starlet Manor Solomon. Hapoel Beersheba ’keeper Ariel Harush will continue between the pipes, Eli Dasa and Sheran Yeini of Maccabi Tel Aviv will be on defense while captain Bibras Natkho, who spent this past season at Olympiacos, the yellow-and-blue’s Dor Peretz and Beram Kayal of English Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion will all be relied upon in the midfield.  
Ahead of the two road contests, Israel held a training camp in Germany to prepare the team as best as possible to reach its lofty objectives. 
“We had some goals going into this training camp which we achieved,” said national team Technical Director Willi Ruttensteiner. “I think that we will be well prepared for the game in Riga.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv captain and Israel central defender Yeini also spoke about the importance of the training camp. 
“Although our club season ended a few weeks ago we’ve been in the national team camp and we’ve been working hard together to make sure we will be ready,” he said. 
Up-and-coming blue-and-white attacking midfielder Solomon, who transferred this past January from Maccabi Petah Tikva to Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk, noted the value of proper preparation.
“The training camp was a necessity because for many of the players their season had already ended a few weeks ago, so we want to be ready and in shape,” said Solomon.
Poland won both of its opening qualifiers, away at Austria by the score of 1-0 and at home over Latvia 2-0 and sits atop Group G with six points, with Israel sitting in second place with four points. 
Polish coach Jerzy Jozef Brzeczek, who once played for Maccabi Haifa, will have at his disposal Bayern Munich’s super striker Robert Lewandowski, who has scored 56 goals in 104 appearances for his country. 
In addition, midfielder Piotr Zielinski of Napoli and youngster Krzysztof Piątek of AC Milan will also feature for Poland. Shoring up the defense will be veteran central defender Kamil Glik who plies his trade for Monaco. However, one player who will be missing due to injury is first-choice ’keeper Wojciech Szczsny of Italian giant Juventus, leaving a big hole in goal. 
The last time the blue-and-white faced Poland in a competitive match was in 1995, when Israel lost 4-3 in a Euro qualifier. (Israel had also beaten the Polish 2-1 in a qualifier five months prior.)
Although Latvia may not have the big names that can be found on the Poland squad, coach Slavisa Stojanovic has plenty of quality players as his side will look to pick up its first points after a pair of defeats.
Zurich ’keeper Andris Vanins, striker Valerijs Sabala, midfielder Janis Ikaunieks and central defender Kaspars Dubra are all top-notch players who may cause Israel fits at the Daugava Stadium in Riga.
Yeini is well aware of the challenge that awaits Israel.
“Latvia is one of the top teams in its ranking tier and perhaps is even better than that,” he said. “Every away game is difficult and our last away win was against Latvia so we’d like to replicate that result. But we know that the game will be very tough.” 
Solomon also looked ahead to the Latvia date with caution.
“This won’t be a simple game as Latvia has a very good national team,” noted Solomon. “We know that it will be a battle on the pitch as every away match in Europe is. We can’t think that just because of their ranking we will be able to get a good result. We will have to go into Latvia and do everything that we can in order to win.”
“The most important thing is that we respect Latvia as a good football team,” explained Ruttensteiner. “When we are focused on our performance and our goals and we’ve given 100%, I think our technical advantage will decide the game. If we don’t play 100% it will become very difficult and we can also easily lose the game.”
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