Yossi yearns to boost blue-and-white at home vs Latvia

Israel captain Yossi Benayoun is hopeful he will be able to contribute to the national team from the bench.

Israel soccer team 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Israel soccer team 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Israel captain Yossi Benayoun is hopeful he will be able to contribute to the national team from the bench when the blue-and-white resumes its Euro 2012 qualifying campaign against Latvia at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday night.
The 30-year-old Chelsea midfielder has been sidelined since last October with an Achilles injury but has recently returned to training with the English powerhouse and said on Thursday that he can play a role as a substitute in the must-win qualifiers against Latvia on Saturday and Georgia next Tuesday.
“I haven’t come here to be a cheerleader,” Benayoun said.
“I’m here to help the team. At the moment I’m not ready to play 90 minutes, but I can play 20 to 30 minutes at a high level. The coach and I will decide together the best course of action.”
Israel coach Luis Fernandez believes he will be able to use Benayoun at some capacity.
“Yossi isn’t 100 percent fit, but he has been practicing with Chelsea for a month and when you train at a club like Chelsea you have to be pretty fit,” the Frenchman said on Thursday.
“He won’t be able to start the matches, but he will be able to end them and help us. I will speak with him and we will decide together what to do. Benayoun is a very important player and he wants to help, so I think he can play 20-30 minutes.”
Israel is currently in fourth position in Group F of Euro 2012 qualifying with four points from four matches, having lost its last two encounters in October to group leaders Croatia and Greece by a 2-1 scoreline.
Latvia, which like Israel has also lost to Croatia and Greece while drawing with Georgia and claiming its one and only win over Malta, has got fond memories from its last visit to Israel, beating the blue-and-white 1-0 at National Stadium in Ramat Gan in September 2009 to end the team’s hopes of advancing to the 2010 World Cup.
“We are facing an opponent which has already won in Israel and we mustn’t forget that this is a team which we failed to beat in the last campaign,” Fernandez said. “Latvia is a disciplined side which has a lot of potential.
We have studied them carefully and I’m certain that it is going to be a very tough and complicated match. But I believe that with the support of the fans we can win this match.
“We still want to finish the group in second position, but for that to happen we will have to win our next two qualifiers.”
Benayoun is wary of Latvia, but is desperate to keep alive Israel’s hopes of reaching the European Championships.
“We all saw what happened the last time we played Latvia, so we will have to give our best to take all three points,” the captain said. “If we win the next two qualifiers we will know better where we stand.”
Israel will be without Eran Zahavi after the Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder was cut from the squad on Tuesday for showing a “lack of respect” to the national team according to the Israel Football Association.
Zahavi, who has been one of the rising stars of Israeli soccer over the past couple of seasons, was given permission to take part in a family celebration on Monday night, but despite being told to return to the team’s hotel by midnight, he never slept at the hotel and didn’t even show up for the team breakfast on Tuesday morning.
In his absence, Fernandez is expected to start in the midfield with Biram Kiyal, Lior Rafaelov and Bibras Natcho.
Elyaniv Barda and Omer Damari will play up-front, with Fernandez likely opting for a five-player defensive formation.
Dudu Aouate will once more stand in goal, with Tal Ben- Haim, Dekel Keinan and Rami Gershon to play in the center of defense. Elroei Cohen or Yoav Ziv will likely start on the right side of the defense while 18- year-old Taleb Tawatha is set to be handed his debut on the left.
“We believe in our chances and we are determined to win,” Aouate said. “Latvia gave us a tough time in the last campaign, but we learned from those matches that we will have to be fully focused to take all three points against them.
“There will be no excuse if we fail to win. We have already lost a lot of points and this is our last chance to stay in contention.”