As the Israel National Team heads towards the end of 2014 World Cup qualifying all I can think of is where the lost points were that will pretty much end Israel’s very slim hopes of moving on. Firstly, the slim hopes are pinned on Israel beating Portugal in Lisbon and then defeating Northern Ireland in Israel and Portugal losing at home their last game against Luxembourg. The points lost were killers for Israel. Two draws with Azerbaijan and the last minute tie with Portugal this past March in essence finished their chances of going to Brazil.
But that being said there have been some positives along with negatives during this campaign. From coach Eli Gutman to goalkeeper Dudu Aoute it has been an interesting run for Israel.
Looking at the positives, Eli Gutman was able to bring in a number of solid players who have made a difference, both up front and at the back. He was able to start Tomer Hemed until he came up with an injury while with Mallorca, Eden Ben Basat of Toulouse who has been a professional striker, plus he has given some important minutes to Maor Melikson who play for Valenciennes & Club Brugge’s Lior Refaelov in the midfield who have impressed with controlling the tempo of the games. Refaelov is a good wing player with speed and aggressiveness on the pitch and Melikson is creative and intelligent with a high football IQ, bothof who will be mainstays with the National side for years to come.
We can also analyze the defenders at the back where Ofir Davidzada of Hapoel Beer Sheva has been an amazing young defender, bright, articulate on the pitch & picked up 2 assist in his first two senior matches against Azerbaijan & Russia. He was also one of the better players for Israel at the Under 21 tournament this summer, and one day he’ll be playing in Europe without question. Eitan Tibi who is playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv is an absolute rock of a defender and anchors the defense their defense. He won a championship last year with Tel Aviv and the prior season with Kiryat Shemona and is being scouted by heavily from around the world. Omri Ben Harush is another Maccabi Tel Aviv player and a newcomer to the national side after an impressive start of the season. Maccabi manager Paulo Sousa is beginning to really trust his play and can be another stable asset for Israel for years to come.
On the flip side there have been the negatives leading off with veteran ‘keeper Dudu Aoute. He made a couple of critical mistakes, one during the Portugal game that led to the 3-3 draw and the other letting in the lone goal at home against Azerbaijan. As well, he was an absolute disaster at the press conference in Russia verbally attacking an Israeli reporter and was seen as pompous and not in touch when enough is enough, both on and off the pitch.
Then there was the fact that manager Eli Gutman allowed Aoute to skip the Israel portion of training camp this week and meet up with the squad in Portugal. No one would comment on that, but that was quite a poor decision by both the player and coach. In reality it’s time for either Ariel Harush or Boris Kleiman to take Aoute;s place. They are younger, hungry and the future ‘keepers.
Ariel Harush of Beitar Jerusalem seems to be the heir apparent to Aoute, but has been playing in front of a porous defense the last couple of years for his domestic club and he was attacked by his own fans at the beginning of training camp because he supported Beitar bringing in 2 Muslim players last year from Chechnya. Boris Kleiman of Hapoel Tel Aviv Israel is Israel’s other young gun played for the Under 21 squad this year and he has taken over for veteran Danny Amos the past two domestic games due to injury and he hasn’t given up a goal.
It’s time for these two ‘keepers to show what they can do between the pipes for Israel!
Of course I would be remiss if I skipped over the Yossi Benayoun controversy. If Benayoun doesn’t have a club team should he be on the roster or not. As captain his presence has been unfortunately a sideshow for the National team all year since even when he did have a club, he wasn’t playing. So that begs the question of should he even be on the National team at all! Gutman and the Israel Football Association have not been clear on where he stands and what his standing will be going forward and this has been a big pain throughout qualifying.
Another issue has been Bebras Natcho play for the National side. For Rubin Kazan he has been a great player and was named Foreign player of the year last season in Russia, but unfortunately never quite produces for the Israel National team. He always seems to come up short and it may be because of the way Kazan uses him compared to the way Eli Gutman does. But if he could play a bit like the Kazan player that had two helpers and a magnificent free kick goal in Europa League action last week, well that would be quite good. But will we ever see this player?
Manager Eli Gutman previously coached Hapoel Tel Aviv and seems to favor those players on the National side as well. I guess one can’t argue with him on the account that he was able to use those same players to take Hapoel to the Champions League, but sometimes you have to defer to better players and not go to war with those who were in the trenches with you. Altogether he called up 54! players for this round of qualifiers, an amazingly high number. Gutman is a motivator and a good guy who had high hopes of taking his side to the World Cup in Brazil will probably come up short unable to take the team them to the promised land.
A couple of weeks ago he was sitting with the Maccabi Haifa owner Yakov Shachar at the Haifa v Maccabi Tel Aviv match, fueling speculation that he will be the next Haifa manager and was heavily criticized for this from the media. I think that if the IFA wanted to replace Gutman they would have done so already and begin plotting a course for the next Euro Campaign ensuring that Israel makes it in a wider 24 team field. So this leads me to believe that any semi-decent result against Portugal and Northern Ireland will cement Gutman’s position for the next 4 years. And maybe, just maybe this will not be the worst decision.
If the IFA can back Gutman during the next run of games and allow him not have to take some players he may want to leave at home, he may be able to continue the National team program and keep bringing in younger, better and better equipped players.
This will be the biggest challenge facing Israel in the near future.