Israel gets great test in Ivory Coast

Friendly in Geneva will be telling for Fernandez & Co. ahead of crucial Euro qualifiers.

Maor Buzaglo 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maor Buzaglo 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Israel goalkeeper Dudu Aouate believes that the blue-and-white will greatly benefit from the fact that 16 of the national team’s 22-man squad are currently playing for European clubs, starting from Wednesday night’s international friendly in Geneva, Switzerland, against the Ivory Coast.
Only six players flew out from Israel to Geneva for Wednesday’s friendly, with the vast majority of the squad coming from across the continent to play for the national team in its final warm-up match ahead of its crucial Euro 2012 qualifiers against Greece at Bloomfield Stadium on September 2 and against Croatia in Zagreb four days later.
The 33-year-old Aouate moved to Spain in 2003 when there were only a handful of Israelis playing on the continent, a far cry from the current situation, in which over 30 of his countrymen are under contract at European clubs.
“The fact that so many players are in Europe can only help us,” Aouate said.
“They train at a higher level at their European clubs and clearly it is always a positive thing when players are being tested abroad.”
Aouate is expecting a very tough match against an Ivory Coast squad which includes the likes of Chelsea’s Didier Drogba, Manchester City’s Yaya Toure and Arsenal’s Emmanuel Eboue, but the Israeli stopper believes that this is exactly the test the blue-and-white needs ahead of next month’s qualifiers.
“The Ivory Coast has superb players, but we need to face a strong opponent to make the best preparation possible for the matches against Greece and Croatia,” Aouate said.
While his Israel teammates are all starring for top local clubs or playing in Europe, Maor Buzaglo enters Wednesday’s match in an awkward position.
Buzaglo has been told by Maccabi Tel Aviv that he has no place in its squad, but the club refuses to release him cheaply, holding out for over a million euros.
In the meantime, the midfielder is training with a group of fellow outcasts at Maccabi, but was still called up to the national team squad after taking part in Israel’s last three qualifiers, which all ended in victories.
“I’m not playing at the moment, but I’m still training twice a day and working hard,” Buzaglo said. “Clearly there is no substitute for playing time, but my only focus at the moment is the national team.”
Despite naming Buzaglo in the squad, Israel coach Luis Fernandez would not promise that he will continue to do so if the 23-year-old doesn’t find himself a new team soon.
“Maor is in a very difficult and complicated situation,” the Frenchman said.
“He was a very important player in Israel’s recent matches and I want him to know that I’m thinking about him.”
Three straight wins have seen Israel climb to third position in Euro 2012 qualifying Group F with 13 points from seven matches.
The national team is tied on points with Croatia and trails Greece by just a single point.
However, with the Croats and Greeks playing one match fewer than the blueand- white, Israel will have to pick up at least four of a possible six points from its upcoming qualifiers to have a chance of finishing among the top two ahead of its final match against Malta on October 11.
“The match against the Ivory Coast is important because it will allow me to see what shape my squad is in a month before the qualifiers,” Fernandez said.
“We are facing two important qualifiers and it is crucial to make the most of every chance we have to play together.”