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england israel soccer 22.(Photo by: AP)
Analysis: The damage has been done, time to move on
JEREMY LAST Jerusalem Post correspondent
Israeli coaches and the media must be realistic and not imagine the nat'l team is something it's not.
As the Israel squad prepared to fly home on Sunday after nearly a week in England the reality of the damage done by Saturday's 3-0 loss to England must have just about been sinking in. While qualification for Euro 2008 had seemed like a plausible possibility before the game, it looks incredibly unlikely now, both because of the situation in the group and the dent to Israel's confidence. Israel now languishes in fourth place in Group E with only the top two from the seven team group qualifying for next summer's European Championship in Austria and Switzerland. Not only do all the other teams bar Estonia have a game in hand on Israel but the blue and white still have to play group leader Croatia away from home and host the Russians in Ramat Gan. Even if England and Russia draw with each other at Wembley on Wednesday they will be above in England in the standings and Croatia has all but qualified already. And after seeing Israel's weak efforts on Saturday there is little hope of getting any good result against Croatia or Russia. The performance by Dror Kashtan's side against England was so bad it was painful to watch for much of the game, especially in the second half where the team managed to outdo its poor first half display by playing even worse. There had been such high spirits, such confidence and such anticipation in the Israeli camp in the lead up to the big game that by Friday it felt that a draw was the worst Israel could do. Now few Israelis believe they can win against any high quality sides. Coach Kashtan had been built up as a genius man manager, who knows soccer inside out and was ready for his chance to show the world what he could do. Unfortunately Israel fans learned the hard way how that could not have been further from the truth. Kashtan picked the wrong players and chose the wrong tactics. And then to top it all, spent half the post-match press conference complaining that the first England goal was offside and goalkeeper Dudu Awat was fouled for the third goal. The foul was unlikely and TV replays showed quite clearly that Shaun Wright Phillips had been level with Israeli defender Yoav Ziv when Ashley Cole crossed the ball in the 20th minute to put England 1-0 up. There was no zest, no zip or passion in the Israel team which simply became overwhelmed by the occasion they had built up so much since arriving in England four days earlier. It couldn't have been a more different game to the match up in Ramat Gan in March where Israel surged forward on occasion and deserved a draw against a very bad England team. True England played well at Wembley. But that was to be expected with players like Micah Richards, Gareth Barry and Emile Heskey in as replacements for regular first team players and with a point to prove. It was a bitter pill to swallow but the game showed how weak Israeli soccer really is. Israel now needs to pick itself up and realize just how far the national team has to go to truly challenge. Israeli players like Barak Itzhaki need to build themselves up physically, the team needs to learn spacial awareness on the pitch and Walid Badier must be replaced by Gal Alberman in the center of the field. It is not impossible to bridge the gulf in class and ability, but Israeli coaches and the media must be realistic and not imagine the national team is something it patently is not. Only then, with a dose of modesty, will the improvements begin.
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