Int'l Soccer: Squad omissions overshadow friendly

Israel coach Kashtan defends decision not to call Balili up for tonight's Hungary game.

kashtan 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
kashtan 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Israel hosts Hungary at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Wednesday evening in its final tune-up before the crucial 2010 World Cup qualifier against Greece on March 28. However, coach Dror Kashtan hardly spoke about the friendly in Tuesday's pre-match press conference, spending almost all his time explaining the logic behind the squad he called up for the encounter. "The door to the national team is never closed, but I don't call up players just to have them on the bench or in the stands," Kashtan said and went on to explain why in-form Sivasspor forward Pini Balili was snubbed once more. "Who invented Pini Balili?" said Kashtan, hinting to the fact that he gave Balili his first chance when he was the coach of Hapoel Tel Aviv. "I know what he's capable of and as soon as I think we need him in the squad I will call him up. Right now I don't think we need him." Kashtan is expected to start with a team similar to the one which will also face Greece, with Gal Alberman at the center of the midfield once again. "The aim of this match is to prepare for Greece," Alberman said. "We would like to win, but the result isn't that important. We only care about the result in the Greece match." Israel, which drew 1-1 at Latvia in its last qualifier on October 15, is currently second in Group 2, winning two and drawing two of its four matches. Also Wednesday, David Beckham is set to make history when England plays European champion Spain in what will be Fabio Capello's toughest test during an impressive start as England manager. Beckham can equal Bobby Moore's mark of 108 appearances for England, the most by an outfield player and second only to Peter Shilton's 125 appearances in goal. Capello has recalled Beckham to the squad after the Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder moved to AC Milan to keep alive his chances of playing in the 2010 World Cup. Beckham is looking to turn his two-month loan deal into a permanent move. Capello is off to the best start by an England coach since Alf Ramsey, who led England to victory at the 1966 World Cup, with eight wins in 10 games and a single defeat. Spain coach Vicente del Bosque puts Capello's successful reconstruction of England down to defense, discipline and an emerging crop of players. "There is a new generation of young English players that are very talented and will be very good, are very good," Del Bosque said. "But their injuries are still important injuries." Regulars Wayne Rooney and Jermaine Defoe as well as defender Luke Young are out, and striker Emile Heskey is doubtful. Capello can count on the return of defender Ashley Cole, while John Terry and Rio Ferdinand will anchor the defense for the first time since a World Cup qualifying win at Croatia last year. Spain, the top-ranked country in FIFA's poll, is on a 28-match unbeaten run dating to November 2006. Del Bosque has won six straight since replacing Luis Aragones, while Spain has taken 18 straight when figuring in an extra-time penalty victory over Italy at Euro 2008. "The truth is that it's a game of superstars, an attractive matchup," Del Bosque said. France will look to restore its battered image when it hosts Argentina in a friendly Wednesday, while Diego Maradona's team wants to prove itself ahead of crucial World Cup qualifiers. France has not beaten a top team since a 3-1 victory over Italy in September 2006, and has a bruised reputation after a dismal European Championship campaign and poor start to World Cup qualifying. After losing to Austria and Scotland in qualifiers last year, France desperately needs a good result to boost players' confidence before qualifying resumes next month. "It's a special match, because Argentina is an exceptional team," France coach Raymond Domenech said. "It's one of the best teams in the world. A friendly against Argentina is not a friendly. It's a real show in itself." AP contributed to this report.