Fernandez blasts IFA ahead of Serbia friendly

Israel coach concerned about Bloomfield pitch; Elroei Cohen completes Hapoel Tel Aviv transfer.

Israeli soccer NATIONAL TEAM coach Luis Fernandez 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Israeli soccer NATIONAL TEAM coach Luis Fernandez 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
The friction between national team coach Luis Fernandez and his employers at the Israel Football Association escalated on Tuesday afternoon.
The Frenchman attacked the IFA’s decision to hold Israel’s friendly match against Serbia at Bloomfield Stadium on Wednesday night a mere two hours after the countries’ under-21 teams play each other on the same pitch, claiming that it will affect his side’s performance and he will face the criticism for its display.
“If I were told about this earlier I would never have agreed,” Fernandez said. “I’m very angry at the IFA. It makes no sense that we will play just two hours after another match has ended.
This could harm the pitch and that could affect our play and bring on criticism.
“We will need 15 groundsmen to get the pitch ready, so if they want, maybe I can help with that as well.”
The IFA responded with a press release explaining that playing a double-header is common practice and that there are not expected to be any problems with the pitch.
The rift between Fernandez and the IFA first appeared when the Frenchman hit out at chairman Avi Luzon for saying that Eli Gutman will be the favorite to replace Fernandez should Israel fail to qualify for the European Championships.
Israel’s match against Serbia will be its final warm-up encounter before it resumes its Euro 2012 qualifying campaign next month.
The national team, which is in fourth position in Group F with four points from four matches after losing its last two games to Croatia and Greece, hosts Latvia on March 26 before playing Georgia at Bloomfield three days later.
“I expect the players to show their commitment and play with focus and excitement,” Fernandez said. “Even though the Serbians are here without Nemanja Vidic and Nikola Zigic, most of their squad play for big clubs in Europe and this will give our young players vital experience against quality opponents.”
Fernandez believes that a win against Serbia will be a perfect preparation for next month’s qualifiers.
“Latvia and Georgia are the trickiest opponents because you think you are the favorite, but you have to prove that on the field,” he said. “We need to prepare in the best way possible for these matches and a win against Serbia will give us a lot of confidence ahead of next month.”
One Israel player who will feel he has especially a lot to prove on Wednesday night is Elroei Cohen.
The 22-year-old midfielder completed his move from Ironi Kiryat Shmona to Hapoel Tel Aviv in the last day of the Israeli soccer transfer window on Tuesday, signing a four-and-a-half year deal.
Hapoel paid Kiryat Shmona a fee of 800,000 euros and will also transfer it 20 percent of the amount it will receive should the player be sold on, as well as 20 percent of the amount it will get from the expected sale of Itai Shechter in the summer.
“I’m delighted to sign for the most successful team in the country,” Cohen said on Tuesday. “This is a dream come true and I can’t wait to join my new teammates in training.”
Cohen made his breakthrough last season, helping Kiryat Shmona to Premier League promotion. He scored seven goals in 18 games this season and has made three appearances for the national team since being handed his debut last October.
“We are very pleased with the signing of Cohen,” Hapoel assistant coach Yossi Abuksis said. “He is a very talented player that we have been eying for a long time.”
Cohen’s capture caps a successful last few days for Hapoel, which also added to its squad Slovakian international defender Mario Pecalka and Israeli midfielder Shay Revivo before the close of the transfer window.
On TV: International Friendlies: Israel vs Serbia (live on Sport5 at 8 p.m.); Germany vs Italy and Spain vs Colombia (live on Sport 2 at 9:40 p.m.); France vs Brazil (live on Sport 1 at 9:55 p.m.).