Israel looking for first points of U-21 tournament

Three points will take Israel above the Portuguese into third place in the group and give the team a possible berth in an Olympic playoff match.

israeli soccer 88 (photo credit: )
israeli soccer 88
(photo credit: )
Israel's search for its first points of the European Under-21 Championship will continue on Saturday night when the side plays its third and final Group A match against Portugal. The national team has yet to score in the tournament, losing 1-0 to both Holland and Belgium in its first two group matches. Nevertheless, Israel can give itself a chance of qualifying for the Beijing Olympic Games with victory on Saturday night at the Euroborg Stadium in Groningen. Three points will take Israel above the Portuguese into third place in the group and give the team a possible berth in an Olympic playoff match. England cannot play in the Olympics as Great Britain sends a united team to the event but no soccer squad. So should the Three Lions finish in the top two spots in Group B, a playoff between the third placed sides in each group will be played, with the winner securing the fourth and final ticket to the 2008 Beijing Games. "We had a very disappointing match on Wednesday night, but it's not over yet, because we still have a chance of reaching Beijing," midfielder Idan Srur said on Thursday. "It's not easy to win in this tournament. The level is much higher than the Israeli league. Even though, only bad luck denied us victory against Belgium." Portugal's squad is jam-packed with talent, with new Manchester United 17 million pound signing Nani and Everton's Manuel Fernandes just two of the team's many stars. Sporting Lisbon's Joao Mourinho orchestrates his side's play from the center of the field, with forward Hugo Almeida of Werder Bremen at the end of most of Portugal's attacks. Despite its star studded lineup the team only barely managed to draw 0-0 against Belgium in its first match of the tournament and lost 2-1 to Holland on Wednesday. "Our destiny is no longer in our hands," Fernandes said. "We've made mistakes we shouldn't have made. Against Belgium we didn't make any mistakes and a draw was not such a bad result. Obviously the defeat against Holland is a bad result." Only a Belgium loss in its final game against the Netherlands combined with a Portuguese victory over Israel will give the side a semifinal berth. "Everyone is telling me that now it's all about beating Israel, but it won't be easy at all. We will do what we can and hope for the best," Fernandes added. The Israel squad, which has only scored one goal in its seven matches since it qualified for the tournament in October, performed admirably in Wednesday's loss, according to coach Guy Levy, who can't understand why he's faced so much criticism from the Israeli press. "It was an excellent match," he said. "We cancelled Belgium out and had a number of one-on-ones with their goalkeeper. It was a really impressive performance and the only thing that went against us was the result."