Israel faces tough opponent in Georgia

On heels of blue-and-white’s Malta triumph, Fernandez appears willing to settle for draw.

Biram Kayal 311 (photo credit: Ariel Schalit/AP)
Biram Kayal 311
(photo credit: Ariel Schalit/AP)
After getting its Euro 2012 qualifiers off to a winning start with a home victory over Malta on Thursday, Israel visits Georgia tonight in a match that could go on to define its campaign.
The national team was far from impressive in its 3-1 win over Malta in Ramat Gan last week and needed a Yossi Benayoun hat-trick to get the better of the minnows.
However, a victory in Tbilisi will give the team a significant boost in its chase of a top-two finish in Group F, which also includes Croatia, Greece and Latvia. A defeat, on the other hand, will put the side in an early hole.
Coach Luis Fernandez admitted on Monday that he would be happy to settle for a draw in Georgia. “Georgia is a good team which needs to be taken seriously,” Fernandez said.
“We will have to maintain our composure and not make any mistakes. A good result will be a win or a draw.”
Georgia, which ended its 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign without a victory, recorded a surprise 1-1 draw at Greece on Friday and new coach Temuri Ketsbaia is confident the team can finally claim a qualifying win when it hosts Israel.
“Our guys did a great job in Greece, but the match against Israel is a different story,” Ketsbaia said.
“Israel is a tougher opponent than Greece. Croatia is the best team in the group and Greece is also strong, but no stronger than Israel. The Israelis will be ready for us after seeing what we achieved against Greece, but we will be playing to win the match.”
Israel will still be without Itai Shechter on Tuesday, the Hapoel Tel Aviv striker having been forced to withdraw from the squad that travelled to Tbilisi after a scan revealed a minor hamstring tear which will keep him away for at least another week.
Club team-mate Avihai Yadin is available again after serving a one-match suspension against Malta, but Fernandez may well choose to play with the same line-up that started last Thursday.
Despite the criticism and the team’s poor play against Malta, Fernandez had yet to decide whether he would play Dekel Keinan instead of Tamir Cohen alongside Tal Ben-Haim in the center of the defense, with Danny Bondarv on the right flank.
Celtic’s Biram Kiyal and Almog Cohen of Nuremburg will likely be joined in the center of midfield by Eran Zehvi or Cohen, meaning last season’s Premier League player of the year, Gili Vermut, will have to settle for a place on the substitutes bench once more.
Ben Sahar is expected to be the blue-and-white’s lone striker yet again, with captain Yossi Benayoun to support him from the midfield.
“We are not concerned with the criticism,” goalkeeper Dudu Aouate said.
“We know there is still plenty of room for improvement and we mustn’t forget that the Malta match was our first together under Fernandez. Georgia is a good team and we are facing a very difficult match. Nevertheless, we expect to return home with all three points.”