Hazan and Israel prepare for Iceland at the European Championship Playoffs

Mar 17, 2024 | Football

The Israel National Soccer Team will face Iceland in European Championship Playoff semifinal action on Thursday (21:45 Israel time) as they look to find a way into this summer’s tournament that occurs every four years. Should the blue-and-white make it past Iceland in a game that is being played Budapest, Head Coach Alon Hazan’s charges will face the winner of the Bosnia and Herzegovina versus Ukraine match that is taking place in Zenica for the right to play in the 2024 Euros that will be taking place in Germany. If Israel loses they will play a friendly against the losing team from the opposite semifinal.

Israel has the opportunity to punch their ticket to the European Championship due to their record in the Nations League that saw them sit atop League B as they look to become one of three teams that have a final chance to join this summer’s soccer festival.

Ahead of the contest, Hazan spoke about a myriad of topics including the absence of striker Shon Weissman who is currently plying his trade for Salertinata in Italy’s Serie A and was named the club’s February Player of the Month.

“I would be upset if there were no criticisms about the squad that I chose,” Hazan began. “We are building a squad that is not only a professional one, but one where the lockerroom and the entire structure of the team will also run together. I know Shon Weissman is playing right now but I wonder why it was never asked why he had been invited other times when hadn’t played in four months. Shon is a national team player and will be in the future as well but this time we chose to play without him.”

A pair of Israeli teams had featured in Europe up until last week when both Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa were both eliminated from UEFA Conference League play and there will be a number of players from both of those clubs who will have the opportunity to represent Israel in the upcoming playoff.

“Up until a week ago, everyone was optimistic and said that we were at our peak. Maccabi Haifa put on an incredible performance with a 4-3 loss to Fiorentina while Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Olympiacos 4-1. However, the following week in which the teams were ousted showing how volatile the sport is. From week to week and in our country from day to day, opinions change. I’m not looking for excuses, we have a squad of players that we go with and in whom we believe in. We will do the job if these players and we know how to connect everyone together and everyone knows the meaning of the mission that we are on. This is what is important for us.”

Last time around in qualifying Israel had to play four consecutive games in roughly 10 days, “This period is completely different. Back in the fall the games were played in the middle of the war and this had some crazy effects on everyone, no matter how much we tried to not pay attention to our surroundings, it was very difficult to disconnect, both for the players and the staff. We are still at war and are experiencing difficult moments, but we are doing everything to isolate these things and focus professionally on the matter at hand. We have to beat Iceland look at it game-by-game as always. We have a difficult task at hand, but we are determined to do it and move on.”

There has been talk swirling that Hazan will continue on if the team gets eliminated while others say that he will be replaced.

“I am not thinking for a minute about what will happen to me personally. We won a number of games to get to be in a situation where we will have a chance to play in the Euros. I know everyone thought we would be able to make it through without having to take part in the playoff, but I had said all along that we were playing in a tough group. Perhaps we could have done it but I am not one to look back. We have Iceland coming up and we will do everything to advance and continue on to the next hurdle.”

Back almost a decade ago Iceland had really moved up the ladder in world soccer and while soime feel that the golden age of Icelandic has come to an end, Hazan stated that this is not the case, “It is a terribly misleading team. When you say Iceland, everyone remembers the one in the Euros that surprised Europe and the world but there is now a feeling that this team is in the sunset, but it really isn’t. Iceland has a lot of players who play in the top leagues and play a physical and aggressive style. It’s going to be one of those types of games that we have played in the past and we need to be focused. We’ve been preparing for this game for quite a long time and I believe we’ll also be able to convey to the players the important factors that will help us win the game.”

There is a lot of noise around the team as this is the chance that Israel has waited for so long to finally get back to a prestigious tournament for the first time since the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

“I’m not bothered by the buzz. There is no doubt that if these games were in Israel then the atmosphere would be different with everything that would be happening around the team. I know the entire country is behind us, but I know some people think we can’t do it and that doesn’t bother me at all. I heard that Iceland is talking about the fact that they just have to get past us to reach the final so in a certain situations we are coming into this game as a kind of an underdog that no one is counting on, but that doesn’t interest me and the players. We have to work harder than any team that will come up against us and we need to do things at the highest level of commitment, this will be the key to success.”

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