Deputy Sports Editor Allon Sinai picks who he believes should be in the starting line-up for Israel's World Cup qualifier against Greece.
By ALLON SINAI
In four days time Israel faces Greece in a qualifier it, quite simply put, must win to give itself a reasonable chance of advancing to the World Cup for the first time in 40 years.
National team coach Dror Kashtan has got several dilemmas regarding his starting 11, so to help him out a little, here is a quick run down of some of the predicaments he faces, and my opinion on whom he should play.
Dudu Aoute started in goal in Israel's first four qualifiers despite being out of favor at Deportivo La Coruna. Now that he's cemented his place as Mallorca's first-string 'keeper, there's no question he will be safeguarding the national team's net once more on Saturday.
Nir Davidovich and Liran Strauber are playing well in the Israeli league, but there's little doubt Aoute will be making his 42nd Israel appearance against Greece.
Unlike the goalkeeping situation, Kashtan's defensive selections are anything but straightforward.
Barring injury, Tal Ben-Haim will start at the center of defense, especially now that he's playing regularly once more after moving to Sunderland on loan from Manchester City.
There remains a big question mark, however, regarding the identity of his partner in the backline.
Maccabi Haifa's Dekel Keinan has started in each of the last three qualifiers, and is once more in the picture, but if it were up to me, I'd start Avi Strul alongside Ben-Haim.
Strul, who played in Israel's first qualifier against Switzerland, has been starting for Belgian club Lokeren in recent months, and with the clumsy Keinan being mistake prone, Strul is probably the safe bet for Saturday.
Kashtan has also got plenty of thinking to do regarding his starters in each of the flanks.
Maccabi Netanya's Klemi Saban and Yoav Ziv are battling for the right-back position, with Dedi Ben-Dayan and the versatile Ziv in contention for playing at left-back.
Saban has played superbly for Netanya this season and also did very well in Israel's last three qualifiers, so there's no reason why he shouldn't maintain his place in the lineup.
Kashtan can't really go wrong with whoever he chooses to play on the left, but personally I'd go for Ziv, who has more European experience, hitting top form for Belgian club Lokeren in recent weeks.
Selecting the back four might be complicated, but it's a piece of cake compared to picking who will play in the midfield.
As always seems to be the case before internationals, Yossi Benayoun is a major injury doubt. But if the past has taught us anything, you can expect the captain to be there for his team once again on Saturday, which is critical to Israel's hopes. Without him Kashtan's side has little to offer and seriously lacks any offensive punch.
Benayoun will likely be given a free role, leaving two spots at the center of the field to be filled by Gal Alberman, Tamir Cohen or Biram Kiyal.
Alberman has played in Israel's last two qualifiers, and despite not seeing much action at Borussia Monchengladbach in recent months, should start on Saturday.
In an ideal world, Cohen would be preferred to Kiyal, but the Bolton midfielder has failed to make a single appearance in the Premier League this season, which in my books makes him a non-option for Saturday, meaning Kiyal should play for a fifth straight qualifier.
The fourth and final midfielder will probably be more of a striker, with Salim Toama, who played on the left in the first four qualifiers, not in the squad.
Kashtan could play Aviram Bruchian, Gili Vermot, Ben Sahar, Itai Shechter or Amit Ben-Shushan in an attacking midfield role on one of the flanks, but I feel he'd be far better off using Barak Itzhaki in that position.
The Betar Jerusalem forward has been the best player in the league in the last couple months, and if he can translate his recent form in league play to the international level he could prove to be the difference maker on Saturday.
It seems all but certain that Elyaniv Barda and Omer Golan will front Israel's attack on Saturday.
Barda gets better with every international appearance, and after being out through injury scored in Genk's victory on Saturday.
Golan has also been playing well for Lokeren this season and has scored in two of Israel's last three qualifiers.
So there you have it, the 11 players who I believe would make up an ideal starting line-up for Dror Kashtan, the same 11 individuals who, on Saturday night, may very well end up shouldering the hopes of an entire soccer nation.
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