The Last Word: It's time to believe - Israel will qualify for the 2010 World Cup

Germany 2006 feels like eons ago, but Kashtan's preparations for the long road towards the next World Cup have already begun.

Kashtan 88 (photo credit: )
Kashtan 88
(photo credit: )
Germany 2006 feels like eons ago, but Israel coach Dror Kashtan's preparations for the long road towards the next World Cup have already begun, "in earnest" as some journalists described them. And that's the way it should be. With this crop of players combined with the the group of teams Israel has been drawn to play against in qualifying, there's no reason to think that Israel will not be at South Africa 2010. The image of the Hatikva playing in the stadiums of Johannesburg or Capetown in two and a half years time makes the hairs on the back of one's neck stand on end. But as usual Israelis see this as no more than a pipe dream. This is more than half of the problem. With eight months to go till the qualifying campaign begins it is time for Israelis - the players, coaches and the public alike - to begin to believe. Confidence is crucial to any sporting endeavor. For Israel to make it through to a major international tournament for the first time since the 1970 World Cup everyone in this country must realize that it is 100 percent possible. South Africa 2010 is our aim, our focus and, indeed, our destiny, and woe behold anyone who tells you otherwise. Of course there will be numerous personalities both within and outside Israel who will scoff at this idea. "Israel's just not good enough," they might say. But these scaremongerers are ignoring the facts, which speak for themselves. Israel will end its tournament drought because of the combination of great young players, players with international experience and weak opposition. Last year the qualifying campaign for Euro 2008 fell apart due to both high class opposition and a lack of belief. England and Croatia were good but Dror Kashtan will now know the players went into the games against these teams under the assumption that a draw would be the best result possible. By September 6 when Switzerland comes to Ramat Gan for the first game of qualifying all that needs to have changed. Although the national team was far from imperious against Romania on Wednesday, the 1-0 win illustrated the possibilities ahead. The Premiership-based Yossi Benayoun and Tal Ben-Haim will be important but it's the young blood which will make the difference. Bnei Sakhnin's Maor Buzaglo and Chelsea's Ben Sahar are raring to go and should be given their chance. It is a pity that Sahar has gone back to Stamford Bridge after a failed loan experience at QPR and may not play much soccer in the coming months. But on Wednesday his goal against Northern Ireland for the Under-21s and the penalty he won reminded us just how potent he can be. Buzaglo is the best player in Israel at the moment and must be promoted to the senior team immediately. The Swiss are not a top quality side and are eminently beatable, as seen on Wednesday at Wembley when they lost to England. Greece isn't the team it once was and Moldova, Luxembourg and Latvia don't exactly strike fear into Israel's hearts. With this summer's Olympics, 2008 is going to be a massive year for Israeli sports. It will also be the start of the most historic campaign in Israeli soccer history.