Gutman on hot seat ahead of final qualifiers

With World Cup a pipe-dream, blue-and-white coach Eli Gutman leads national team into Portugal.

Eli Gutman370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Eli Gutman370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel’s players have rallied behind coach Eli Gutman ahead of the national team’s final 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
The blue-and-white enters its last two qualifiers, at Portugal on Friday and at home against Northern Ireland next Tuesday, with almost nothing to play for.
A top-two finish is out of reach following last month’s draw with Azerbaijan and defeat at Russia and third place is effectively secured with Israel holding a six-point gap over Northern Ireland and Luxembourg.
All that really remains to be determined is Gutman’s future, with the coach’s contract set to run out at the end of the year.
The decision regarding Gutman will be made mainly by Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon, who will be handed the coach’s report on the campaign following the final qualifier next week.
The players have thrown their support behind Gutman, with both Maor Melikson and Eden Ben-Basat publicly calling for the coach to be handed a contract extension.
“Changing the coach will achieve nothing,” said Valenciennes midfielder Melikson. “The players are just not good enough to finish above teams like Russia and Portugal.”
Ben-Basat, who is back in the squad after missing last month’s qualifiers through injury, was even more unequivocal in his backing of Gutman.
“Eli is one of the best coaches in Israel. It is not for me to talk about him,” he said. “You can’t take anything away from what Gutman has achieved in his career. I think he should remain the coach. The players need to take responsibility for the results just like Eli has done.”
The national squad arrived in Portugal on Tuesday, and despite last month’s disappointment, and the ominous opponent, Ben-Basat believes the blue-and-white can surprise Cristiano Ronaldo and friends.
“We are going to Portugal with the aim of being a worthy opponent,” said the Toulouse striker. “We had a chance to advance from this group had we beaten Azerbaijan last month, but the draw sealed our fate.
“After last month’s qualifiers it was clear that this campaign was a failure.
On the other hand, we still have two more matches to play and we must end the campaign on a sweet note.”
Melikson echoed his teammate’s sentiment.
“We will do our best to regain the public’s trust,” said Melikson. “The match in Portugal will be far from easy, but we will try and make life difficult for them. Our chances aren’t very good, but we won’t give up in advance.”
“Portugal is a team of the highest level with players like Ronaldo. We will have to work very hard to stop them.”