International Soccer: Kashtan expects a win against Greece

National team hosts Rehhagel's side at Ramat Gan on Saturday night.

kashtan soccer 248 88 ap (photo credit: )
kashtan soccer 248 88 ap
(photo credit: )
Israel's dream of reaching a first World Cup in 40 years will hang in the balance at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Saturday night. Ever since the draw was made for the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, Israel knew that its hopes of playing in South Africa will essentially come down to the outcome of two matches over four days against Greece. Some 16 months and four qualifiers later, the national team faces its moment of truth. With half of the campaign left to play after Saturday, Israel will still stand a theoretical chance of qualifying regardless of the outcome of the match. But to have any reasonable chance of finishing top of Group 2 and progressing automatically to the World Cup, a victory against Greece at Ramat Gan is simply crucial. "Every player knows the responsibility he bears. They all know to put their egos aside and give their all for the team. I believe that this generation of players will lead Israel to the World Cup," national team coach Dror Kashtan said on Thursday. "We have a lot of respect for Greece, but at home we want to win." Greece currently leads Group 2 with nine points, with Israel in second position, one point back. Kashtan was his usual cool, composed self during Thursday's pre-match press conference, which he began with a five minute speech. Most of it was dedicated to the fitness of captain Yossi Benayoun, who trained with the team on Thursday after an MRI scan earlier in the day showed significant improvement to his hamstring injury. "Yossi is doing all he can to play, but it's important to note that we won't risk his health," Kashtan said. "Yossi is an important player, but this is the national team. A team isn't all about a single player. Besides Yossi, we have a group of excellent players who possess the character to claim the victory." Apart from Benayoun, Kashtan has a full squad to pick his lineup from. Assuming the captain does eventually play, the indications are that the coach has already made up his mind about all but one of his 11 starters. Dudu Aoute will start in goal, just like he did in Israel's previous four qualifiers, with Tal Ben-Haim and Dekel Keinan to anchor the defense. Klemi Saban is expected to maintain his place on the right of the backline, with his Maccabi Netanya teammate Dedi Ben-Dayan beating out Yoav Ziv for the left-back position. Gal Alberman, who has played very little for Borussia Monchengladbach in recent months, and Tamir Cohen, who has seen even less of the pitch at Bolton this season, failing to make a single appearance, look set to start in the center of the midfield. Yossi Benayoun is supposed to be the midfield's main attacking threat, supporting the striking duo of Elyaniv Barda and Omer Golan, who will likely start up-front for a third straight qualifier. The identity of the one remaining winger is the biggest question mark, with Amit Ben-Shushan, Barak Itzhaki, Ben Sahar, Itai Shechter and Gili Vermot all in the picture to start. Kashtan refused to even reveal if he has decided who will play on Saturday, not to mention the actual names of the starters. "I can promise the Israel fans that they will see a determined and battling team," Kashtan said, "A team which will do everything to succeed and win." Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon was as confident as ever on Thursday. "I know everyone is concerned with Benayoun's fitness, but I've got news for you, even without him Israel will still be playing with 11 players," Luzon said. "I'm certain we will progress to the World Cup. If we win on Saturday I have no doubt that the remainder of the campaign will work itself out."