Ozzy Neav


Having barely recovered from one of the best European Championships of all time, we now turn our attention to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. With group qualifiers starting at the end of August, it is pertinent to start speculating and analysing as to what the future might hold on the road to South Africa. Will 2010 finally see the Israeli national team exorcise the ghost of Mordechai Spiegler; Israel’s most prolific striker that led the Israelites to their only World Cup in Mexico 1970, or will this prove to be another typical Israeli campaign filled with regret, disappointment and frustration?

Putting aside all the surrounding elements outside of their control, Israel are certainly talented enough to qualify from what is considered the weakest group by far. With more players abroad than ever before and with a league champion (Beitar Jerusalem) about to vault into Europe’s biggest stage, the Israelites firmly believe that there is a trip to South Africa in their cards.

With a first line keeper by European standards (Dudu Awate) and a stubborn defence, opposing teams will have trouble finding the net against one of Europe’s most proficient home sides. An all around impressive midfield led by Yossi Benayoun (Liverpool) and Gal Alberman (Borussia Monchengladbach) who can loosely be compared to a goal scoring Claude Makelele, the likes of Greece and Switzerland will have difficulty gaining control of precious real estate in the midfield.

It is upfront that several question marks circle for Israel. Since the glory days of Spiegler, Israel has lacked the services of a quality forward at the European level. Without a true striker in the domestic ranks, there exist only two possibilities for Head Coach Dror Kashtan. One is in the form of youngster Ben Sahar (Portsmouth) and the other is Elyaniv Barda (Genk), who enjoyed a great year with the Belgian side, knocking home 16 goals. With only four goals in 13 appearances between the two for there national side, it remains unclear whether or not Israel will finally receive the fire power in front of goal it so desperately lacks.

As always with Israel, success hinges on goal production. Israel learned the hard way in previous campaigns that winning is not the same as not losing. Draws will not help Israel win the group and with stiff competition waiting in the playoffs, Israel had better find its scoring touch from somewhere, even if it means that coach Kashtan needs to run on to the field and kick the ball himself.

What has critics and supporters in Israel giddy like schoolboys is the shockingly weak competition in the group. But are the Israelis foolish in thinking that this group will not end up as a competitive and bitter battle to determine who will take the trip to South Africa?

Thanks to FIFA’s idiotic World Cup ranking, where Greece are ranked in the top seed group, Greece, Israel and Switzerland will be involved in a three way race for top spot. The Greeks, having been embarrassed in the Euros, are now limping into the qualifiers with many unresolved issues. Questions surrounding age and the lack of younger talent in some positions have assuredly caused some Greeks to ponder the possibility that their national team enjoyed a golden era and that the near future promises to be lean and unsuccessful.

Many Israelis can recall the period not too long ago when Greece were an inferior side with the Israeli national team demolishing them on more than one occasion. Yet to think that these days have returned perhaps displays faulty presumption and over eagerness on the part of the Israelis. Greece can still field a superior side when compared to anything Israel could possibly muster.

Greece should still be thought of as the most powerful team in group two despite their awful showing in the Euros. The Swiss, going through the same turmoil as the Greeks, pose a difficult barrier in Israeli’s qualification quest. While there is no question that Israel are more technically gifted, the superior endurance of the Swiss seemed to give them an edge as the two managed a 2-2 draw in Israel. The Israelis needing a 90th minute goal to grab one point. Israel will have to beat Switzerland mentally as well as physically if they are to have any hope of overcoming the Swiss on the road.

If Israel are ever to qualify for the World Cup, then the time is now. Israel will never receive an easier group in both the World Cup and the Euros. Group two is pathetically inferior to the other groups, not only with the top ranked teams, but with the bottom ones as well. If Israel want to taste the World Cup again, then it must take advantage of this most fortunate gift that lady luck has bestowed upon them. Israel have all the tools to qualify for the World Cup and they will, as long as Spiegler’s ghost doesn’t get in the way.