It’s now or never

Is­rael get ‘easy’ World Cup draw — and the skip­per can’t be­lieve his luck

The Jewish Chronicle - - SPORT - BY SI­MON GRIVER

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

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