The Last Word: It's not over yet

If Israel gets a good result in England after playing Macedonia and Andorra over the summer, then the game against Russia is crucial.

jeremy last better pic (photo credit: Courtesy)
jeremy last better pic
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Speaking on BBC radio Friday night, former England midfielder Chris Waddle said he could not understand why Israel was building England up so much. Waddle had heard that Israel coach Dror Kashtan had described England as "favorites" and a strong team with "outstanding players." But this is a team at the bottom of their form, especially following the defeat in Croatia, Waddle argued. Isn't all this star worshiping damaging the Israel players' confidence? The ex-Spurs and Newcastle supremo had missed the point, and so have many others who have laid into Kashtan, saying Saturday's draw with England was two points lost rather than a point gained. The fact is that by stressing the qualities of England in the build-up to the game, Kashtan took the pressure off his players, making them the underdogs and put the pressure on his opponents. And perhaps it is a sign of how far the Israeli game has come when the country's media and supporters expect their team to beat the English, with Lampard, Terry, Rooney and co. Unlike the catastrophic performance in a home loss to Croatia, the Israeli players seemed to know what they were doing and made few mistakes. They may not have scored but the home side played it just right for much of the game, doing everything it could apart from score. The decision to play defender Arik Benado in midfield alongside Walid Badier worked as planned and more often than not stifled the potentially dangerous attacks of Wayne Rooney and Andrew Johnson. Benado was one of five Betar Jerusalem players in the starting lineup, and all performed admirably against opposition of far higher quality. Left back Yoav Ziv, who has played on the right of defense for his club for most of the season, threw himself at England's best, including Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, won on most occasions and never stopped running. As expected, Ziv did his country proud. Right winger Amit Ben-Shushan often got the better of Aaron Lennon, especially in a dazzling, 15-minute spell at the start of the second half when the Tottenham midfielder hardly managed to touch the ball due to Ben-Shushan's presence. And after such a disappointing start to the season, especially when he was clearly at fault for Russia's goal in the 1-1 draw in Moscow, Shimon Gershon was no less than a rock in the center of defense alongside Tal Ben-Haim. The star of the team was striker turned attacking left winger Toto Tamuz. From the kickoff, Tamuz was an ever-present threat to England's defenders, and clearly worried England's stand-in right back Phil Neville in the opening exchanges. If Toto had nicked a goal, things could have been so different. It is, of course, true that England played better and created better chances. But that was to be expected - just look at their team sheet. And it is also true that England played far below the level their thousands of visiting supporters had hoped for. However, there are no two ways about it, Kashtan's troops stood up against some of the best players on the planet and held them at bay. The biggest mistake was the inclusion of striker Pini Balili, who never even had a shot on target. The Sivaspor big man is a spent force who never should have started, especially with the likes of Elyaniv Barda and Ben Sahar available. So enough of the doom and gloom, it's time to look forward. If Israel plays like it did against England when it faces Estonia at Ramat Gan on Wednesday, it is more than likely the home side will come away with a win, especially with Idan Tal and Roberto Colautti back from suspension. And while Croatia appears to be running away with Group E, it is all not over yet. Israel can still qualify by finishing second in the group. Russia may be in second place at the moment but still has to play in Croatia and against England twice. If Israel can get a good result in England after playing Macedonia and Andorra over the summer, the game against Russia in September could prove crucial and propel the Israelis to their first major championship since 1970.