World Cup: Israel faces Finland in crucial friendly ahead of qualifiers

Israel is in a relatively easy group this time around, with Greece and Switzerland the top two teams blocking its way to the finals in South Africa.

world cup 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
world cup 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel's preparation for the upcoming 2010 World Cup qualification campaign will get into top gear in the Finnish city of Tampere on Wednesday night when the national team plays Finland in a crucial friendly match. The game will be coach Dror Kashtan's final opportunity to give a run out to players such as new Maccabi Tel Aviv signing Maor Buzaglo before the first World Cup qualifier against Switzerland in Ramat Gan on September 6. After battling for qualification for Euro 2008 with England and Croatia and facing France and Ireland in an effort to make it to the previous World Cup, Israel is in a relatively easy group this time around, with Greece and Switzerland the top two teams blocking its way to the finals in South Africa. With the Israeli league not starting for another week and a half, the majority of the squad have been in Finland since the weekend for a training camp, with the foreign-based players such as Liverpool's Yossi Benayoun and Genk's Elyaniv Barda joining early this week. Borussia Monchengladbach striker Roberto Colautti has returned to the international setup and will play in front of his teammate at the German club, former Betar Jerusalem midfielder Gal Alberman. Alberman made his Bundesliga debut for Monchengladbach in the 3-1 defeat to Vfb Stuttgar on Sunday. Although Colautti, a former Maccabi Haifa striker, has not played for his club side yet this season, he said Tuesday that he believes he has regained fitness after completing a full training camp in Germany. "It has been nearly a year since I have been in the national team squad due to injury. I have waited a long time and I am happy to be back here," Colautti said. The Argentinian-born star has no doubt Israel has every chance of getting though the qualification and making it to its first World Cup since 1970. "The aim is to make it to the World Cup and we will do everything we can to achieve this. But we need to take things slowly, game by game. We could have been placed in a harder group, but it would be a mistake to think this is an easy group," he said. Colautti also stressed the importance of the Switzerland game, saying it was crucial to win, even if the team does not play well. "Everyone needs to give 100 percent and be ready for every game," he concluded. On Monday the national team completed its final training session in Helsinki and traveled to Tampere, where the game will be held. Betar Jerusalem defender Shmuel Kozokin was included in the squad after impressing while playing for the league champion. He is likely to get a chance to show his skills alongside fellow Betar players Aviram Bruchian, Amit Ben-Shushan and Moshe Ohayon. Surprisingly Jerusalem midfielder Michael Zandberg and striker Barak Itzhaki were left out. The Finns will provide a stern test for Israel, with a number of top-class internationals included in their squad. Veteran Bolton Wanderers goalkeeper Jussi Jasakelainen will be able to rely on Liverpool center back Sami Hypia and Werder Bremen defender Petri Pasanen. The team is coached by an Englishman, Stuart Baxter, who formerly coached the South African national team.