World Cup qualifiers: Israel hopes to finish on high note

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

As Dror Kashtan sat down to face the mediaalongside captain Yossi Benayoun on Tuesday evening, the Israel coachdid his best to deflect attention from Saturday's defeat against Latviato Wednesday's almost-meaningless World Cup qualifier againstLuxembourg.

"Itis correct to say [Saturday's loss] has ended our chances ofqualifying," Kashtan said with his usual stony-faced expression, "butwe have to finish the campaign in the most respectful manner possible.It is also important in terms of our [FIFA] ranking for the nextcampaign."

Benayoun himself has been the center of attention since the 1-0loss to the Eastern Europeans, after he was caught on camera shoutingobscenities at assistant coach Moshe Sinai following his 66th minutesubstitution.

Immediately after the match Benayoun admitted he had been frustrated, but claimed he had simply been "swearing into the air."

OnTuesday, both captain and coach stressed the air had been cleared in aface-to-face meeting with Sinai on Monday and the matter was put torest. Any rumors of Benayoun quitting the national team were way offthe 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 untilJune.

But there is still the small matter of a game against 115thranked Luxembourg to come, and while the Israelis may have beaten theirforthcoming opponent 3-1 away from home back in October last year, theboys in blue and white would be foolish to take another win forgranted.

After losing 4-0 at home to Greece in its first 2010 World Cupqualifier, the Luxembourg team coached by Guy Heller then went andstunned Switzerland 2-1 in Zurich on goals from Jeff Strasser and FonsLeweck, who scored the winner in the 87th minute.

Since then, the only goal Luxembourg has scored was RenePeters's first-half equalizer against Israel, but the threat must notbe 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 replacethe suspended Dekel Keinan, while Betar Jerusalem captain AviramBruchian is expected to slot into the position vacated by injuredMaccabi Haifa talisman Yaniv Katan.

Up front, Espanyol striker Ben Sahar will get his chance toshine, with Kashtan likely to leave Omer Golan on the bench after hisineffective 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 andwe want to fix this and get our respect back," he noted. "In our squadmeeting Dror told us: 'Think about how you would feel after a defeat toLuxembourg.' No one wants to experience that feeling."