Euro Soccer: Fernandez cautious after schedule draw

New national team coach insists Israel must win first two games of Euro 2012 campaign.

Euro draw 311 (photo credit: Ron Friedman)
Euro draw 311
(photo credit: Ron Friedman)
Newly appointed Israel coach Luis Fernandez believes the national team must win its first two qualifying games if it is to have a good chance of making it to Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.
The qualification schedule was set by a UEFA draw in Tel Aviv on Thursday as the participating countries in Group F had been unable to agree on a diary for the matches.
The draw followed the annual congress of European soccer’s governing body held at the city’s Hilton Hotel.
Israel will host Malta on September 3 and visit Georgia four days later in the opening games of the campaign.
“There are no easy matches in soccer, but we need to go out there on the field and win,” Fernandez said.
“In order to start well we need to win the first two games. The crucial matches will be against Greece and Croatia.”
Israel hosts Croatia in its third game of qualification on October 8 and then travels to play Greece on October 12.
IFA Chairman Avi Luzon was careful not to make sweeping comments  about Israel’s chances as he did two years ago, when he predicted that Israel would qualify for the 2010 World Cup only to see the campaign end in disappointment.
“This is a reasonable draw. I think that we have to believe, with respect, and dream [of qualifying],” Luzon said when asked if he felt Israel can advance to a major tournament for the first time since the 1970 World Cup.
While UEFA announced that all the qualifying games have been scheduled to be played on Fridays and Tuesdays, rather than Wednesdays and Saturdays as has been the case in recent years, the participating countries can decide to move the Friday games to Saturdays if both parties agree.
It is therefore likely Israel will not play its games on Friday nights.
UEFA President Michel Platini was full of praise for Fernandez at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Thursday.
Asked to give his views on the 50-year-old former Betar Jerusalem coach, who agreed to take the Israel job on Sunday, Platini appeared to forget Fernandez’s recent poor coaching performances at Spanish side Real Betis and French second division team Stade de Reims.
“I know him well… He is a great professional, a passionate man,” Platini said.
“He loves coaching and has been successful. Like any other coach, if he has good players he has good results. I think you have good players here in Israel. He is a true professional with a big heart.”
The UEFA Congress was the culmination of three days of high level meetings all held at the Hilton.
Some 300 delegates, representing the 53 member associations, filled the hotel’s grand ballroom on Thursday morning, to the delight of Luzon.
“I am proud, thrilled and filled with awe standing here before you,” he told the delegates.
“It is no secret that when most of you leave here or watch the media about our country you may get the wrong impression, but we Israelis are proud of our country.
“We are always happy to host any international tournament and enterprise… I hope maybe the next congress we will host will be the FIFA Congress.”
President Shimon Peres also addressed the audience, praising the peacemaking qualities of soccer.
“It brings people together above partitions, above borders,” Peres said of the sport. “It is a collection of careness, a meeting of people who really care.
“All of the stars of football I have met are instinctively messengers of peace. So for me, as a politician, your contribution to peace is really very meaningful.”
This was one of the most significant sporting conferences to ever beheld in Israel and Platini said the choice of venue “clearly symbolizesUEFA’s desire to extend its horizons.”
The congress itself wasa relatively mundane affair, with the chairmen of various committeespresenting reports to the delegates who voted on minor changes to theUEFA regulations.
The biggest round of applause came right atthe end of the three-hour meeting, when Platini announced that he haddecided to stand for reelection at the next congress in Paris next year.