Israel looks to keep momentum going at home

Blue-and-white hosts Luxembourg hoping to win its second qualifier in four days.

MAOR MELIKSON 370 (photo credit: ebastien Pirlet/Reuters)
(photo credit: ebastien Pirlet/Reuters)
After finally claiming his first victory as Israel coach in the seventh time of asking, Eli Gutman is confident of making it two wins in four days when the national team hosts Luxembourg at National Stadium in Ramat Gan in 2014 World Cup qualifying on Tuesday evening.
Gutman experienced an agonizing first 10 months to his tenure, with Israel losing three times and drawing once in four friendly matches under his stewardship before drawing 1-1 at Azerbaijan in its Group F opener and suffering a humbling 4-0 home thrashing against Russia.
There was even talk that Gutman would resign, but the coach rejected any such notion and breathed a huge sigh of relief when his side crushed Luxembourg 6-0 on Friday to kickstart its campaign.
Qualification for a first World Cup since 1970 remains extremely unlikely, but another convincing victory on Tuesday will instill some much-needed confidence ahead of Israel’s next real test, the home match against Portugal on March 22.
“We were pleased with the result and our performance for much of the match in Luxembourg,” Gutman said at the blue-and-white’s training complex in Shefayim on Monday.
“I enjoyed seeing the players implant what we worked on in training. However, we know that we face a completely different match on Tuesday.”
Gutman defended his declaration from the start of the campaign that Israel’s goal is to reach the World Cup, saying: “without expectations and challenges what’s the point of life?”
He also added that Israeli soccer fans should come out to support the side on Tuesday because “what else have they got besides the national team?”
Luxembourg got its qualifying campaign off to a promising start by its standards before being hammered by Israel, stretching Portugal’s nerves before falling to a 2-1 defeat and recording a surprise 1-1 draw at Northern Ireland.
Coach Luc Holtz was optimistic his side can bounce back from the 6-0 drubbing.
“Israel played really well and surprised us on the break,” Holtz said on Monday.
“It certainly wasn’t our day and I’m hoping for a better day on Tuesday and that we’ll achieve our goal of beating Israel.”
Gutman is expected to make no more than two changes to the team that started in Friday’s win, with Yoav Ziv set to replace the injured Gal Shish at left-back and Dekel Keinan challenging Eitan Tibi for the place alongside Dan Mori in the center of defense.
Gutman will not make any changes up front, hoping Tomer Hemed and Eden Ben-Basat can build on the prolific start to their partnership, with Hemed netting a hat-trick in Luxembourg and Ben- Basat scoring once.
“I waited for my chance and I made the most of it when I finally got it,” said Ben-Basat, who made his debut in the match against Russia and has already scored three goals this season for his French club Brest.
“I hope we can continue this way. They will be more focused after losing 6-0, but we will be ready. I hope we can play with the same determination and commitment because we have to win this match.”
In the absence of Yossi Benayoun, goalkeeper Dudu Aouate will captain the side once more on Tuesday.
“The defeat to Russia stunned us. We came to that match feeling good but received a wake-up call,” Aouate said.
“The players learned from that and we did our job in Luxembourg and I hope we do it again on Tuesday.”