It’s now or never
Israel get ‘easy’ World Cup draw — and the skipper can’t believe his luck
WORLD CUP Israel captain Yossi Benayoun believes Israel have been handed a marvellous opportunity to end 40 years in the World Cup wilderness after they were drawn in the easiest 2010 qualifying group in South Africa on Sunday.
Israel, who finished level in third place with England in the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, and missed out on the finals by just one point, were drawn in Group Two alongside holders Greece, the weakest team among the top seeds, as well as Switzerland, Moldova, Latvia and Luxembourg
This means they could reach the finals for the first time since 1970.
“This is the best opportunity we could have expected,” said Benayoun. “And for me personally, this may be the last opportunity to play in the World Cup finals. Even so it will be dif- ficult because only one team qualifies automatically.”
In addition to the group winners, the eight best runners-up in the nine groups will play-off for four more berths in South Africa.
Greece, who won Euro 2004 in Portugal and topped their qualification group for Euro 2008, will be no pushovers.
Switzerland, who pipped Israel on goal difference for second place in the 2006 qualifiers, have seen many top players retire, and the rest of the group and should pose little threat.
Manager Dror Kashtan, who is expected to receive a two-year contract extension to lead Israel through the campaign in South Africa, was in Durban and greeted the draw in phlegmatic fashion.
“The draw is reasonable,” he said. “It would have been far more difficult had we had to face the likes of Germany, Italy, France, Spain or Portugal.”
In part, Israel made its own luck in the draw by finishing within a whisker of qualification in the Euro 2008 campaign with 23 points alongside England and just one point behind Russia who will advance to the finals next summer.
As a result Israel, who are ranked 26th in the world, were promoted from the pot featuring fourth-seeded teams to the second seeds in last weekend’s draw. They went into the same pot as England and Scotland.
Israel FA President Avi Luzon was reportedly furious that he had to read about Israel being placed in the second pot in the local press.
Before last week’s 1-0 victory over Macedonia, the IFA executives had calculated that Israel’s place in the thirdseeded pot was assured and that the final match was meaningless, when in fact the victory turned out to be crucial in determining Israel’s stronger seeding.
In the coming weeks the IFA will nominate a senior executive who will be responsible for being fully abreast of the seeding situation.
Seeding aside, with talented young players coming through from the
Israel expects: The national team will never have a better chance of qualifying for a major tournament