Israel in Malta for meaningless match

Blue-and-white’s Euro qualifying campaign mercifully comes to an end.

Tomer Hemed_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Tomer Hemed_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Israel will end its Euro 2012 qualifying campaign at Malta on Tuesday night with a match as insignificant as it is dull.
Having lost any hope of finishing among the top two in Group F with consecutive defeats to Greece and Croatia in early September, all the national team has left to play for is third place, which could help the blue-and-white receive favorable draws in the future.
Although, with Latvia and Georgia needing wins over Croatia and Greece, respectively, to have any chance of leapfrogging Israel on Tuesday, Luis Fernandez’s men look set to end the group in third position even if they lose to Malta at the Ta’Qali Stadium.
But considering Malta has picked up just a single point in its nine qualifiers to date, anything but a comfortable win will be regarded as yet another letdown from an Israel side that has come nowhere near playing to potential over the 13- month campaign.
Such has been the disappointment with the national team that Channel 10 has elected to forgo the broadcasting of the match, instead allowing Sport5 to show it free of charge despite having payed approximately NIS 500,000 for the right to screen each of Israel’s qualifiers.
For the first time in years, not a single journalist has traveled with the side, and it seems that the players would have also rather stayed at home.
“There’s a strange atmosphere, because throughout the campaign we were always very serious and now we have nothing to play for,” Nuremburg midfielder Almog Cohen said. “But we need to win for ourselves and for the team. A win will give us ranking points and hopefully will help us get easy teams in future draws.”
Despite already recovering from a side strain, Arsenal midfielder Yossi Benayoun was left out of the squad, with Israel also missing the suspended Tal Ben-Haim, Eran Zahavi and Omri Ben-Harush, while Itai Shechter was not called up due to his request to attend his brother’s wedding.
Goalkeeper Dudu Aouate only joined the team in Malta on Sunday, and as hard as they may try to disguise it, there is little doubt that everyone involved simply wants to get the Euro 2012 campaign out of the way to allow the squad to turn its attention to the 2014 World Cup qualifiers that will begin next September.
“It’s true that we have nothing to play for, but we mustn’t forget that this is an official national team match and we mustn’t take it lightly,” striker Elyaniv Barda told the IFA website.
“To Fernandez’s credit, he has remained serious and professional until the very end,” Barda said of the Frenchman, who in all likelihood will guide Israel for the last time on Tuesday.
“Had the results been better than there would have been a different atmosphere, but we still need to give our all to win this match and end the campaign with a sweet taste in our mouths.”