While the World Cup opened up with the top 32 nations from around the globe duking it out for soccer supremacy, the Israel National Team along with its youth squads have been busy preparing for a number of upcoming qualification competitions and tournaments.
The senior blue-and-white team played a pair of friendlies against Zambia and Cyprus at the Moshava Stadium which allowed head coach Alon Hazan the opportunity to see some of his newer players, youngsters and wily veterans in action as he begins preparations for Euro 2024 qualifying which begins in March.
The Under-21 squad is also getting ready for the 16-team European Championships in the summer of 2023 that will take place in Georgia and Romania with an exhibition game versus the Ukraine while the Under-19 team is in the midst of qualifying for the Elite Round of the 2023 European Championships slated for Malta.
Israel’s senior national team will begin 2024 European Championship qualifying in March when they face Kosovo at home and Switzerland away which will be followed up by games in June against Belarus and Andorra while the September 2023 window will see Israel take on Romania before playing each of the teams in their group a second time.
Alon Hazan’s squad came away from the two games with mixed results, defeating Zambia 4-2 in their first game and falling to Cyprus 3-2 in the second with both games being played in the Holy Land. However, results weren’t the most important factor that the head coach was looking at since the contests were friendlies but rather he was experimenting and giving a number of young players a chance to shine.
One of those players was Maccabi Tel Aviv’s starlet, attacking midfielder Oscar Glouch who scored his first goal for the blue-and-white while also impressing with his creativity and acumen on the pitch.
“It was very exciting for me to play in my first games as part of the senior national team,” a thrilled Glouch said. “I am happy that I was able to create numerous opportunities for the squad. I’m so happy to have realized one of my dreams.”
Cyprus took a quick 1-0 lead via Charalampos Charalampous and Ioannis Pittas doubled the advantage as he took a through ball, went by defender Sean Goldberg and put it behind keeper Daniel Peretz in the 24th minute.
Glouch pulled Israel to within a goal in the 66th minute when he sent the ball with a left footed shot into the Cyprus goal while just two minutes later Tai Baribo drew the hosts even at 2-2. But as the game neared its end Michalis Ioannou found the winner to give the visitors the victory.
“We were too soft and we have to understand that this has to change,” Hazan said following the defeat. “We saw an improvement in the second half and we had the momentum after we drew even but Cyprus brought in on some substitutes who were fresh and they scored on one of their chances.”
In the senior team’s first game, Israel didn’t make it easy but two late goals gave the Blue & White a 4-2 victory over Zambia in friendly action at the Moshava Stadium. Head coach Alon Hazan’s squad took a two-goal lead lead into halftime but a pair of defensive breakdowns allowed the visitors to draw even at 2-2 in the second half. But a late own goal and an Itamar Shviro strike in injury time gave the hosts the win.
Ramzi Safouri had chances a plenty early on for Israel, while Patson Daka countered with opportunities for Zambia, but it was Tai Baribo who finished off a nice team play as the striker put away a Dean David ball for a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute. Just a minute later, David himself found the back of the goal as he nodded home a corner kick by the far post to double the score.
However, Zambia kept pushing and cut the lead when Kings Kangwa stripped the ball from Neta Lavi and put it into the goal in the 55th minute while 12 minutes later Larry Bwalya headed the ball with authority right by Omri Glazer to know the score up at 2-2.
But Israel wasn’t done yet as Dan Glazer’s scorcher glanced off of Emmanuel Banda and into the net for an own goal in the 89th minute while Itamar Shviro took a brilliant Gaby Kanichowsky through ball and put it away in injury time to take the victory.
“This was a friendly game to see what we need to improve and do better,” Hazan said after the game. “I could understand that the players were getting tired and that we need some work on the defensive side. I’ll take the good things as well as what needs to be worked on. We paid the price on some of our mistakes.”
“We wanted to play a good game,” Eli Dasa began. “There are things for us to improve which is why we have these games. We shouldn’t have given up a pair of goals and we had to step on the gas to finish off the game. Zambia have some quality players who are in top leagues and these games are great for us to work on things as a team. I have to take off my hat to all of the fans that were here for this game.”
The Under-21 team will feature in the 2023 Euros in a group with Czechia, England and Germany which will no doubt be a huge task but Guy Luzon’s squad made sure to play a pair of tough friendlies in order to prepare for next summer’s challenge. Israel drew 1-1 with Ukraine as Ido Shachar scored from the penalty spot in the second half to earn a draw and also defeated Georgia 2-1 thanks to goals by Stav Lemkin and Arad Bar.
“I believe that these two friendlies were excellent preparation for us as both teams will be in the Euro this summer as well,” Luzon said. “The games were played at a very high level and I have plenty of thoughts as to who will be in the final squad for the tournament as many players had an opportunity to play for the first time with the team.”
The Under-19 squad is the midst of qualification for the Elite Round of the 2023 championship where they defeated Finland 4-0 thanks to a hat trick by Ariel Lugassy and downed Faroe Islands 2-0 on strikes by Ran Binyamin and Ilya Feingold. The victories have placed the young blue-and-white under the direction of head coach Ofir Haim in prime position to advance to the next stage.