Israel begins its Euro 2016 campaign Friday night in Nicosia, Cyprus against an upstart Cyprus team who are coming into this match after a shock win over Bosnia last month. Playing in a group that also features the likes of Belgium & Wales, Israel will be tested in order to secure the 3rd position which would lead to the playoff berth in the expanded Euro field to play in France.
Many questions surround Eli Gutman and his team as he prepares his charges for two matches on 3 days that could determine Israel’s fate sooner rather than later. On paper Israel should take care of Cyprus without a problem considering the quality of players that play domestically in Israel or around Europe.
Players such as Tomer Hemed of Almeria, Omer Damari playing at Austria Wien, Bibras Natcho of CSKA Moscow or local players Eran Zahavi and Gili Vermut show class and skill that should easily take care of an overmatched Cyprus. However, after their big victory over Bosnia one can not discounts, nor should they discount the threat that exists not named Belgium, Wales or Bosnia, but Cyprus.
Nicosia will pack the GSP Stadium as the FA sold tickets at cut rate prices in order to fill it to the rafters and with APOEL playing admirably in the UEFA Champions League a sold out stadium is expected. The pressure will surely be in Israel and anything. Anything but a win may be disastrous.
Sure the players and coaches are saying all the right things. Cyprus is a dangerous foe, especially after already picking up 3 valuable points against the mighty Bosnia, a sold out stadium will be a tough environment, Israel’s still jelling together because they didn’t play last month. A draw wouldn’t be terrible, 4 points in two away matches would be great and all of the teams can win against any other. The quotes go on and on.
But let’s face it, Israel MUST take 6 points in these matches. They have NO CHOICE. A draw in either one of them will be a loss of 2 ever so important and valuable points in a super tough and even group.
On top of the pressure that certainly exists in the Israel camp, the goalkeeper controversy has kept the media snipping at the heals of all three candidates, Guy Haimov, Ofir Marchiano & incumbent Ariel Harush and the coaching staff for the last month.
Haimov plays for Kiryat Shemona and is a solid no frills ‘keeper. His skill set is above average and would be a sure bet to give Israel a certain stability in goal and has European experience playing in Cyprus just a few years ago. Marchiano has played exceptionally well for Ashdod but lacks international experience. Harush, who played for the National team back in the spring against Mexico and Honduras and the year before versus Germany, has the most experience. But he has not looked sharp in the Netanya goal after a long summer of arbitration when leaving Beitar Jerusalem and has had enough headaches the past year which seems to have impacted his play. However, Harush has intangibles that the other two do not have.
According to reports Marchiano was named first choice ‘keeper and Ariel Harush had an absolute fit, crashing into depression as he was knocked off his throne. What is really going on behind the scenes at the Israel camp is something that we are unsure of, but video released today shows an irate Eli Gutman reaming out his players prior to heading over to the island nation. All does not seem to be well at Israel camp which could lead to their downfall before the games begin. And that is the last thing that the Israel Football Association & Eli Gutman could want. On top of that, Maccabi Tel Aviv star Eran Zahavi was rushed to the hospital in Cyprus after falling ill.
Will coach Gutman be able to get his team together before Friday night? Will everyone be on the same page and can Israel put the sum of it’s parts together to win? Or will it look like a mess of a team on the GSP Stadium pitch blowing whatever Euro 2016 chances they had?
Those are the big questions facing Israel.
We shall find out Friday night in Cyprus.