Israel dealt tough European Championship draw

Host blue-and-white placed in group with England, Italy and Norway.

Luzon and Platini 370 (photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
Luzon and Platini 370
(photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
Israel under-21 national team coach Guy Luzon said the blue-and-white will enter next summer’s European Championship with a positive attitude despite labeling his squad as the weakest side in Group A following Wednesday’s draw in Tel Aviv.
Israel was placed in one group with England, Italy and Norway, with the top two to advance to the semifinals. The tournament will take place from June 5- 18, 2013 at four venues: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Netanya and Petah Tikva.
“This is an easy group. We are the clear favorites,” Luzon joked before revealing how he really felt about his team’s chances.
“We are the weakest team in the group, but that will not result in us entering the tournament with a negative attitude.
“We will do all we can.”
Israel didn’t need to qualify for the championship being the host team, but it has shown some real promise in its recent friendly matches, beating Belgium 4-1 among others.
“We are the clear underdog.” Luzon added. “All the other teams wanted us in their group.
“We will do our best to narrow the gaps between us and the other teams, but it is like the difference between a Premier League and second division side.”
England qualified for the final tournament with a 2-0 aggregate victory over Serbia and its squad for next summer is expected to include the likes of Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Liverpool’s Rahim Sterling and Manchester City’s Jack Rodwell.
“We’re in with the hosts and we’ve seen from past experience being in with Sweden [in 2009] how the home nation buoy up their team,” said England coach Stuart Pearce.
“Everyone has expectations of what they deem as the strongest or weakest group and weakest teams, but until a ball is kicked you never actually know.
“Even if our group is a slightly easier group, the one thing you do know is that whichever teams get out of it will probably have the toughest semifinal, so it counts both ways.
“We feel we have a tough group and we hope to give a good account of ourselves against three really good nations.”
Norway caused the upset of the playoffs by knocking out France, but Italy coach Devis Mangia is expecting a stern test against both Norway and Israel, who are considered to be the weakest teams in the competition.
“The eight teams here are all very competitive, so I didn’t really have any preferences,” Mangia said.
“What I can say about the other group is that there are teams in it that we know better than the teams that we will face in our group, so now we have to focus on learning things about our opponents.
“People might talk about England and Italy as favorites – for me they have the most experience in such competitions, but there are two sides to that because, as we saw, Norway eliminated France and France were one of the big favorites for this competition.
“And Israel is a growing nation and the host team. They will definitely have the crowd on their side.”
Group B will be contested between defending champion Spain, Germany, Netherlands and Russia.