National soccer team has a new coach and a new captain.
By ALLON SINAI
The Dror Kashtan era of Israeli soccer will officially begin in Slovenia on Tuesday night when the 62-year-old coach will guide the national team for the first time.
The match against Slovenia will be the blue-and-white squad's one and only friendly match ahead of the 2008 European Championship qualifiers. Israel will start its qualification campaign on September 2 with an away match in Estonia and will host Andorra four days later for its second match.
The team has been training in Slovenia the last few days and the game will be the first chance to see Kashtan's influence on the side.
One player who has already been affected by the new coach is star defender Tal Ben-Haim. The Bolton Wanderers player was sent home by Kashtan on Sunday after refusing to train with the team a day earlier. Ben-Haim claimed to be suffering from an injury, but team doctor Mark Rosnovski cleared him to train and Kashtan demanded that the player practice with the rest of his teammates.
"Discipline with teamwork. Individual discipline and team discipline," was what Kashtan said he expects from his team in a press conference last week and it appears his strict approach to coaching has already taken its toll on the national team.
Ben-Haim was the star of the Israeli defense in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers and is widely regarded as the team's second most important player after newly crowned captain Yossi Benayoun, who may not be available. The defender appeared as usual for Sunday morning's training session, hoping to undo Saturday's events, but Kashtan would not allow him to train and ordered him to leave immediately.
Ben-Haim's absence means that the team will probably start with an all-Betar Jerusalem defense. Shimon Gershon will partner with Tomer Ben-Yosef in the center, with Omri Afek and Yoav Ziv playing on the right and left, respectively, of the back four.
Roberto Colautti is expected to make his national team debut after the Israel Football Association received word from UEFA late Monday that his paperwork had been approved. However, in order for Colautti to actually be able to take the field, the IFA has to receive written confirmation, which is expected to arrive Tuesday.
The Argentinian, who recently acquired the status of a temporary resident in Israel following his marriage to an Israeli, had been anxious about whether he would be able to suit up.
The team will probably also be without Benayoun. The West Ham United midfielder arrived in Slovenia two days after the rest of the team and did not take part in training because of an injury to his foot.
Benayoun was nonetheless upbeat about being with the squad. "It is always fun to join the national team and meet friends," he said. "Being the captain of Israel is the biggest achievement of my career. It is what every player dreams about and I thank Kashtan for selecting me."
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