World Cup hopes on the line in Greece

Kashtan's Israel team must get something out of tonight's qualifier in Crete.

barda israel greece soccer 248 88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
barda israel greece soccer 248 88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
The bottom line is quite simple. A victory against Greece in Crete on Wednesday night and Israel has a superb chance to qualify for a first World Cup in 40 years. A loss, and Dror Kashtan and his players can start making holiday arrangements for next summer, because in all likelihood they won't be playing in South Africa. And a draw in Greece will mean the national team will probably remain in the hunt, but likely a fruitless one, as it still needs to face Switzerland on the road in its final qualifier. Israel is currently third in Group 2 with nine points, a point behind Switzerland and Greece, and Kashtan was confident on Tuesday that his team can leapfrog the Greeks in the standings by taking all three points at the Pankritio Stadium in Heraklion after being held 1-1 by the same opponents in Ramat Gan on Saturday night. "I believe we can win at any stadium," Kashtan said at the pre-match press conference. "I'm sure the Greeks will play far more attacking soccer than they did on Saturday and we have a lot of respect for them. But we have a very determined team and I'm certain our boys will do everything to win on Wednesday. "Everyone knows the importance of this match. Will we win? I'm an optimistic man and I want to remain one." Kashtan isn't expected to make many changes from the lineup which failed to defeat the Greeks on home soil at the weekend. "I have the lineup in my head, but I've still got one more day to think it over," Kashtan said. "Regardless of what I eventually decide I won't be making any drastic changes, maybe one or two." With Yossi Benayoun and Gal Alberman expected to be fit to play on Wednesday, Kashtan's main dilemmas are in the defensive midfielder's position and at left-back. Tamir Cohen could well be replaced at the center of the field by Biram Kiyal after an under-par performance on Saturday, with Kashtan possibly also deciding to play Ravid Gazal or with a third defensive midfielder instead of one of the strikers. Dedi Ben-Dayan's disappointing form at Ramat Gan could cost him his starting place, with Yoav Ziv to enter the lineup should Kashtan decide to drop the Maccabi Netanya defender. The Greeks will also likely start with a similar lineup to the one which played at Ramat Gan, but with one significant difference. One of the Greeks most important players, Benfica midfielder Kostas Katsouranis, who missed Saturday's match through suspension, will return to the heart of the field and make his 60th appearance for the national team. "Israel is a dangerous team on attack and we'll need to be careful on defense," Greece coach Otto Rehhagel said on Tuesday. "In Israel we created many scoring opportunities but failed to convert them. We've played in Crete twice in the past and we won both matches so we're hoping to win again on Wednesday. However, to do so we will have to play better than we did at Ramat Gan." Also in Group 2 on Wednesday, Switzerland hosts Moldova and Luxembourg visits Latvia.