Eng­land ex­pects, but Is­rael ex­per­i­ments

A win or draw at the Ra­mat Gan is vi­tal to keep Eng­land’s hopes alive — but it doesn’t look good

The Jewish Chronicle - - Sport - BY SI­MON GRIVER

Is­rael is field­ing a team of vir­tual novices

The best player and cap­tain is in­jured

And (wait for it) the keeper’s coach is Rus­sian

EURO 2008 English eyes will be fixed on the Ra­mat Gan to­mor­row night as Is­rael take on Rus­sia in a Euro 2008 qual­i­fier. The hosts have no chance of reach­ing the fi­nals but a draw or win against the Rus­sians will en­able Eng­land to progress if they can beat Group E lead­ers Croa­tia at Wem­b­ley on Wed­nes­day.

Not one for sen­ti­ment, Is­rael head coach Dror Kash­tan is set to field an in­ex­pe­ri­enced line-up against a Rus­sian team who boosted their qual­i­fi­ca­tion hopes with a 2-1 vic­tory against Eng­land in Moscow last month. Kash­tan has named a 23-man squad with a view to get­ting things right ahead of the 2010 World Cup qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign.

Wit h c a p t a i n Yossi Be­nay­oun out with a torn ab­duc­tor, Is­rael look set to un­leash teenage sen­sa­tion Maor Buza­glo.

Last week­end the 19-year-old was given a sheep by a grate­ful Bnei Sakhnin fan af­ter he scored in the 3-1 vic­tory over Ash­dod. The Jewish star of Is­rael’s top Arab club now has the chance to be­come the toast of Eng­land.

“It has al­ways been my dream to play for the na­tional team,” said Buza­glo. “It is just a shame that my chance might come be­cause of an in­jury to Yossi Be­nay­oun. I hope to play along­side him in the na­tional team in fu­ture games.”

Buza­glo’s rise to star­dom has been a ma­jor sur­prise even though he has of­ten been touted as the nat­u­ral heir to Eyal Berkovic and Be­nay­oun. In the sum­mer Mac­cabi Haifa man­ager Roni Levy deemed him not yet good enough for the first team and sent him on loan to Sakhnin for the sea­son. The teenager has been a reve­la­tion for the Galilee club with four goals and three as­sists, putting newly pro­moted Sakhnin in sec­ond place, three points be­hind lead­ers Be­tar Jerusalem.

Buza­glo has been equally dev­as­tat­ing in the Is­rael Un­der-21 team, scor­ing in each of last month’s Euro 2009 qual­i­fiers against Ger­many and North­ern Ire­land.

Kash­tan had told col­leagues that he was sav­ing Buza­glo for Is­rael’s World Cup 2010 qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign next year, but Be­nay­oun’s in­jury paired with Buza­glo’s scin­til­lat­ing per­for­mance last week­end con­vinced the Is­raeli man­ager that a gam­ble on the young­ster may pay off.

Kash­tan has dropped for­mer Bolton and Ever­ton mid­fielder Idan Tal along with ex­pe­ri­enced trio Arik Be­nado, Walid Badir and Pini Balili for the matches with Rus­sia and at home to Mace­do­nia on Wed­nes­day.

Other young­sters in the squad in­clude Dekel Keinan, Yu­val Sh­pun­gin, Barak Yitzhaki, Amit Ben Shushan — who scored the late equaliser when Is­rael drew 1-1 in Rus­sia last year — and Ben Sa­har, even though he spends most of his time at QPR on the bench.

Tal Ben Haim, who has been promised a hol­i­day to the des­ti­na­tion of his choice by Chelsea team­mate Joe Cole if Is­rael can do Eng­land a favour, will be handed the cap­tain’s arm­band in Be­nay­oun’s ab­sence.

In at­tack, Ar­gen­tinian-born Roberto Co­lautti re­turns from in­jury af­ter mak­ing his de­but for Borus­sia Monchenglad­bach last week­end, along with outof-form Genk marks­man Elyaniv Barda. Tamir Co­hen, son of for­mer Liver­pool star Avi Co­hen, who made an im­pres- sive de­but in last month’s 1-0 de­feat in Croa­tia, is likely to start in mid­field along­side Be­tar’s Gal Al­ber­man and Buza­glo. De­portivo La Coruna’s Dudu Awate re­turns to goal af­ter miss­ing the match in Za­greb through sus­pen­sion.

In an­other twist, it was this week re­vealed that Is­rael’s goal­keep­ing coach Alexan­der Ubarov is a Rus­sian and he is root­ing for his home na­tion.

More than 8,000 Rus­sians will travel to Ra­mat Gan in­clud­ing Chelsea owner Ro­man Abramovich and Arse­nal share­holder Alisher Us­manov.

In ad­di­tion, thou­sands of Is­raelis who im­mi­grated to the coun­try from the for­mer Soviet Union will be cheer­ing on the Rus­sians.

Eng­land can take com­fort from the fact that Is­rael has only lost one match at Ra­mat Gan in the past eight years. And if Buza­glo makes a dif­fer­ence, Eng­land fans should note that his fam­ily keep kosher in their Karmiel home, so kosher wine would be prefer­able to cham­pagne as a win­ner’s re­ward.

An­other in­cen­tive is book­maker and Eng­land fan Fred Done’s of­fer of a £50,000 top-of- the-range Mercedes to the scorer of an Is­raeli win­ning goal.

PHOTO: REUVEN SCHWARTZ

Our great hope: Maor Buza­glo is 90 min­utes from earn­ing hero sta­tus

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