Eliyahu, Hagag agree to join national team at last moment

The 22-year-old had initially said that he would not play for Israel as long as Sherf was in charge.

lior eliyahu 224 88 (photo credit: asaf kliger)
lior eliyahu 224 88
(photo credit: asaf kliger)
Lior Eliyahu ended weeks of speculation on Tuesday night and announced that he will attend the national team's first training session of its EuroBasket 2009 campaign on Wednesday. Eliyahu and national team coach Tzvika Sherf fell out at Maccabi Tel Aviv last season, after the veteran coach benched the forward throughout most of the second half of the team's campaign, and the 22-year-old had initially said that he would not play for Israel as long as Sherf is in charge. Numerous discussions with Sherf and Israel Basketball Association officials, however, changed Eliyahu's mind and he will be part of the national team this summer. Earlier in the day Sherf expressed his hope that Eliyahu would decide to eventually show up on Wednesday. "I think Lior is a good player and he has a place on the team," Sherf said at a press conference at Hadar Yosef in Tel Aviv. "I spoke to Lior on Monday and I hope he will decide to come to the session." Israel hosts Great Britain in its first European Championship qualifier on September 3. Another player, who like Eliyahu, had originally asked to be released from the roster is Dror Hagag. The Maccabi Tel Aviv guard requested that he be exempted from national team duty this summer due to personal reasons, but was turned down and is expected to attend training against his wishes. Also in Israel's qualifying group are Bosnia and the Czech Republic. Sherf's team needs to finish first in its group or to be among three of the best four group runners-up to qualify for next summer's European Championships in Poland. "We take part in the European Championships on a regular basis, but we can't take that for granted," said Sherf about his team's aim to reach a ninth straight EuroBasket tournament. "We have a tricky group. Great Britain is much stronger than it's been in the past and we'll have a tough time against them. We have a long history of difficult games against Bosnia, and the Czechs are never easy to beat." Israel captain Meir Tapiro said: "We are facing a very tough campaign. Great Britain is a very good side and Bosnia and the Czechs are also dangerous. The players can't wait to begin training and give their very all for the national team."