World Cup qualifiers: Israel hopes to finish on high note

With dream of reaching South Africa dashed, national team takes on Luxembourg.

fifa world cup 2010 88 (photo credit: )
fifa world cup 2010 88
(photo credit: )
As Dror Kashtan sat down to face the media alongside captain Yossi Benayoun on Tuesday evening, the Israel coach did his best to deflect attention from Saturday's defeat against Latvia to Wednesday's almost-meaningless World Cup qualifier against Luxembourg. "It is correct to say [Saturday's loss] has ended our chances of qualifying," Kashtan said with his usual stony-faced expression, "but we have to finish the campaign in the most respectful manner possible. It is also important in terms of our [FIFA] ranking for the next campaign." Benayoun himself has been the center of attention since the 1-0 loss to the Eastern Europeans, after he was caught on camera shouting obscenities at assistant coach Moshe Sinai following his 66th minute substitution. Immediately after the match Benayoun admitted he had been frustrated, but claimed he had simply been "swearing into the air." On Tuesday, both captain and coach stressed the air had been cleared in a face-to-face meeting with Sinai on Monday and the matter was put to rest. Any rumors of Benayoun quitting the national team were way off the mark, they said. "Moshe loves Yossi the way I love him, and Yossi loves us as we love him," Kashtan explained, somewhat bizarrely. Benayoun said they all had a heart-to-heart and spoke about the issue as "mature men." Kashtan once again dismissed calls for his resignation, maintaining his intention to finish his contract, which lasts until June. But there is still the small matter of a game against 115th ranked Luxembourg to come, and while the Israelis may have beaten their forthcoming opponent 3-1 away from home back in October last year, the boys in blue and white would be foolish to take another win for granted. After losing 4-0 at home to Greece in its first 2010 World Cup qualifier, the Luxembourg team coached by Guy Heller then went and stunned Switzerland 2-1 in Zurich on goals from Jeff Strasser and Fons Leweck, who scored the winner in the 87th minute. Since then, the only goal Luxembourg has scored was Rene Peters's first-half equalizer against Israel, but the threat must not be dismissed. The Israel team will be a little different from that which started Saturday's game, mostly due to injuries and suspensions. Tal Ben-Haim will return to the center of defense and replace the suspended Dekel Keinan, while Betar Jerusalem captain Aviram Bruchian is expected to slot into the position vacated by injured Maccabi Haifa talisman Yaniv Katan. Up front, Espanyol striker Ben Sahar will get his chance to shine, with Kashtan likely to leave Omer Golan on the bench after his ineffective performance against Latvia. Benayoun attempted to sound motivated for the game, saying it was always important to improve. "We are all disappointed. We know it was our responsibility and we want to fix this and get our respect back," he noted. "In our squad meeting Dror told us: 'Think about how you would feel after a defeat to Luxembourg.' No one wants to experience that feeling."