Soccer: Levy's Israel team focusing on the win

Under-21 side needs a positive result against Belgium on Wednesday night to have any chance of advancing to the European Championship semifinals.

Guy Levy  88 (photo credit: )
Guy Levy 88
(photo credit: )
Israel's Under-21 side will need to record a positive result against Belgium on Wednesday night to have any chance of advancing to the European Championship semifinals. After losing the tournament opener 1-0 to host nation The Netherlands, defeat in its second Group A match will end Israel's hopes of reaching the last four. Israel struggled throughout its match against the Dutch on Sunday and will need a much improved performance against Belgium to pick up its first points of the championship. As Chelsea teenager Ben Sahar confirmed Tuesday that he be fit to play in in Heerenveen on Wednesday, Israel coach Guy Levy remained positive. "Belgium is a very strong and physical side, and has many skilful players," Levy said. "It will be a tough game for us because both teams have to win to qualify. It is the most important game of the tournament for both teams. "We will have to play a more offensive game than we did on Sunday because this is a must-win match," Levy added. "We played OK against Holland, but OK will not be enough against Belgium. We will have to play perfectly." Belgium put in a fine performance against Portugal in its first game of the tournament on Sunday, but had to settle for a 0-0 draw, failing to break down its opponent's defense. Confidence in the Belgium camp was extremely high following Sunday's match and forward Kevin Mirallas was very clear about the team's aspirations in the championship. "I think we can go all the way," Mirallas said. "From now on, the other teams will have to watch out for Belgium. There is a lot of talent in this team. We showed that, but we need to show it again in the next games." Coach Jean-Fran ois De Sart's preparation for the tournament was less than ideal with 10 of his players taking part in Euro 2008 qualifiers last week. "We only had two full training sessions before the game against Portugal, but I know that if my players are well prepared they can reach a high level," he said. "I am not surprised by how well we played. It is too soon to suddenly say we are favorites or anything. "First we have to get through this group, and the difficult thing for us will be to repeat this level on Wednesday and Saturday." Mirallas, who played for French side Lille in the UEFA Champions League last season, agreed with his coach that victory is the only acceptable result on Wednesday. "Israel is a strong team," he said. "They are very difficult to play against. We know it's not going to be an easy game but we're confident." Levy was quick to defend his team's performance following Sunday's match, claiming that the criticism targeted at his side was not fair. "We've got used to being criticized, but we have to remember that this is the first time any Israeli national team has reached this tournament and this is thanks to these players," he said. "All of us are here because of them and I won't let anyone harm them or criticize them in any way." Levy is not expected to make any drastic changes from the lineup that played on Sunday. Sahar was the team's most prominent injury worry after twisting his knee in the game against Holland. But the 17-year-old appeared at a pre-match press conference on Tuesday evening and confirmed he will be available. "I'm feeling fine," Sahar told reporters. "We have two games to play and any team could still finish first or second [in Group A]. "Nothing's lost yet. Last year the Dutch lost their first game, drew their second match and won the tournament." Amit Ben-Shushan could return to the starting 11, should he recover from his hamstring injury, replacing Omer Peretz or Barak Itzhaki in the team. Idan Srur could also start for the first time in the tournament on Wednesday, taking the place of defensive midfielder Shiran Yeini. Reflecting on the reaction to the defeat by the Dutch, Sahar added: "I don't understand why the team was criticized after the match against Holland. "We gave our all on Sunday and we will do so again on Wednesday. We need support and not criticism. If everybody will be positive then we will succeed."