Assulin to make debut against Chile

Sixteen-year-old Barcelona B striker will become youngest ever Israeli international.

gai assulinj 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
gai assulinj 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Gai Assulin is set to become the youngest Israeli international ever on Wednesday when the national team faces Chile in a friendly match at Ramat Gan. The Barcelona B player will celebrate his 17th birthday on April 9 and will break the record set last year by Ben Sahar by 195 days. Despite only training twice with the national team, Assulin has created an almost unprecedented buzz among his teammates and even the usually docile coach Dror Kashtan went out of his way to praise his new recruit. "Assulin is on his way to becoming a world class player, but we must give him time to develop," Kashtan said on Tuesday. "He's an extraordinary talent and I decided that this is the right time to give him his first call-up so that he will gain some international experience. I'm sure Israeli soccer will benefit from him for many years." Israel goalkeeper Dudu Awat was also full of praise for the 16-year-old midfielder. "Assulin is a rare talent. He's a modest boy and is very talented and I've only heard good things about him. You can tell he's something special," Awat said. Wednesday's friendly will be Israel's last match for five months, with the squad not meeting up again until its friendly against Finland on August 20. Israel opens its 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign against Switzerland on September 6. "This is the last time we can train together this season and I would have been much happier had we had a few more gatherings ahead of the start of our qualifying campaign," Kashtan said. "Every training session we have and every match we play helps the team improve." Only 6,000 fans attended Israel's last friendly against Romania at the start of February and Kashtan is hoping that the decision taken by the Israel Football Association to price Wednesday's tickets at NIS 10 will lure the supporters back to Ramat Gan. "I hope the stands won't be as empty as they were against Romania. The IFA has lowered the ticket prices and I expect many fans to come," Kashtan said. Israel captain Yossi Benayoun is also hoping to see Ramat Gan much fuller than it has been in recent matches, especially as Israel's under 21 team will be playing Moldova in a European Championships qualifier ahead of the senior side's game. "The prices have been lowered to NIS 10 and I think that's a fare price. Anybody who loves the national teams should come. It's not much fun to play in front of empty stands and I hope that we will regain the trust of the supporters," Benayuon said. Chile is already in the midst of its World Cup qualifying campaign and is currently seventh out of 10 teams in the South American group, collecting four points from its first four matches. The team is guided by former Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa and almost all of its squad play in Europe's top leagues. "Israel is a very strong opponent," Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Arturo Vidal said. "A team with players from Chelsea, Liverpool and Barcelona must be good. It's important for us to gain experience and a match like this against a European opponent will help us with that." Also Wednesday, Israel's Under-21 team will play Moldova in a European Championship qualifier. The game will be played at Ramat Gan before the senior team's match against Chile as part of a double header.