Blue-and-white set for bellwether friendly in Ukraine

National Soccer: Israel faces Ukraine in an international friendly in Kiev on Wednesday.

Israel national soccer team at Babi Yar 370 (photo credit: Israel Football Association website)
Israel national soccer team at Babi Yar 370
(photo credit: Israel Football Association website)
Israel faces Ukraine in an international friendly in Kiev on Wednesday night in its last tune-up match ahead of the final stretch to its 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.
The blue-and-white currently sits in third place in Group F with 11 points from six matches, trailing second-placed Russia, which has 12 points from five games and top-of-the-table Portugal, which has 14 points from seven encounters.
Israel hosts Azerbaijan on September 7 and visits Russia three days later before playing Portugal on the road on October 11 and ending its campaign at home against Northern Ireland four days later.
Besides winning its final two home matches, Israel will also likely have to triumph in at least one of its games at Russia or Portugal to have any chance of finishing in the runners-up position and qualifying for the playoffs.
But before the national team sets its sights on recording a massive upset by beating Russia or Portugal, it will want to continue its recent promising streak against Ukraine ahead of the must-win qualifier versus Azerbaijan.
Israel has won three of its past four qualifiers, only missing out on a famous victory against Portugal after conceding a stoppage- time equalizer, while also triumphing in its past two friendlies, including its most recent outing in June against Honduras in New York.
“We are facing a serious test against a team we have already lost to,” said Israel coach Eli Gutman, who unsurprisingly hasn’t forgotten the blue-andwhite’s 3-2 friendly loss to Ukraine in February 2012 which was his first match in charge of the national team.
“Ukraine is a good team which is ranked at No. 28 in the world, but we are making good progress and I have a lot of faith in my players. I wait for every training session like a child waiting for a toy.”
Gutman already seems set on the 11 players he will start in next month’s qualifiers as he is expected to begin Wednesday’s friendly with an almost identical lineup to the one that beat Northern Ireland 2-0 in Israel’s last qualifier in March.
“Every national team match is important because we don’t get that much time together,” said Bibras Natcho, who will start in the midfield.
Captain Yossi Benayoun was called up to the squad despite still being without a club, but he is set to start Wednesday’s match on the bench.
“I’ve had approaches from teams in Europe and the United States. MLS could be an interesting experience,” he said in a recent interview to
“I have enough energy left to carry on playing at the top level and help the national team to rise to the next challenge.”
Benayoun and the rest of the squad and the national team staff visited the Babi Yar ravine in Kiev on Tuesday where 33,771 Jews were massacred by Nazis and their Ukrainian assistants over two days on September 29–30, 1941. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 150,000 more lives were taken at Babi Yar.
On TV: Ukraine vs Israel International Friendly (live on Sport5 at 9 p.m.)