The Israel National Team returns to the pitch against Belarus on Friday night for the first of two 2024 European Championship Qualifiers as they look to punch their ticket to the tournament being held in Germany. The blue-and-white will take on Belarus in Hungary due to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine and will then play Andorra in Jerusalem on Monday night as they look to record their first win of the qualifying competition.
Head coach Alon Hazan’s squad last played Group I action in March when they drew 1-1 with Kosovo at home and then fell at Switzerland 3-0 and they will try to take 6 points with a pair of victories to get back into the qualification picture. Should Israel not qualify directly for the Euros they will have a last chance to do so in the Nations League playoffs.
However, that is not the most ideal situation for the team as they ready for two games that in their eyes are winnable should they come in with the right mentality and attitude.
“The league finished a couple of weeks ago and we have to make sure that the players come into these two games at the highest level,” Hazan began. “We are looking at the entire campaign and not just these two games but we definitely want to take the points. We want 3 points against Belarus and then another 3 points after that when we play Andorra. Our goal is to advance to the European Championships and in order to do that we need to get by these opponents and all of the others that we will play.”
There is still some talk about a number of players who are not with the team including star striker Eran Zahavi and Omer Atzili, but the bench boss wants to focus on the players that are present and accounted for, “I am dealing with the players who are here and not those who aren’t. We are trying to figure out how to deal with those who aren’t here, find a solution to the various situations. We have a very good relationship with the Under-21 coach Guy Luzon in order to do the best we can for the squad. Right now we are focusing on the senior national team games and we will do as best as we can to succeed in the upcoming goals we have in front of us.”
Keeper Omri Glazer understands that the team must win both games coming up should they want to have a successful campaign, “We have two games coming up that we have to win and that is what we will do. We are working hard and preparing for these games. It always feels great to be a part of the National Team but it’s also working hard to continue to prove myself. We have a big mission in front of us with two massively crucial games. There are never easy international games and we have to do what we need to in order to win and then move on to our next goals. “
“We are coming into these two games knowing that we need to win both,” Dolev Haziza confirmed. “We will prepare as best as we can and I don’t believe in the idea of favorites. It’s always dangerous to play against smaller teams because they have nothing to lose and can come in and do what they need to. We have to focus on ourselves and win these two contests in order to keep the dream alive and keep on battling.”
While many feel that Israel has an advantage on both Belarus and Andorra, they are also aware that they drew 1-1 wot Kosovo in Tel Aviv and they can’t take any opponent for granted explained veteran Dor Peretz.
“These are very crucial games for us. We have to come in as ready as we possibly can because these two contests can impact our entire campaign at the highest level and we have goals that we have set and want to meet. Every national team play at the high level and I believe that if we play our best soccer than we can match any other national team including Switzerland. We have to be at our peak for things to happen.”
Hazan agreed with his midfielder that the team needs to be focused and 100% ready or else they won’t be able to reach the goals that they have set, “The fact that we may have an advantage on one rival or another doesn’t mean anything. If we want to use that advantage we need to be really focused, each one of us and then prove that we are better than the other team. If we don’t do that then there are no favorites. We will try to find the best lineup for the national team. We are a good team with some good qualities but we need to improve on some things that we didn’t do in the last games that we played.”
With the Under-20 team having a magnificent run at the World Cup, Hazan has been mesmerized as to what they have accomplished and will also have one of those stars in Roy Revivo joining his squad for the pair of qualifiers.
“I am full of pride when I see the Under-20 matches as they are doing a heroic job from the staff to the players. It’s a real pleasure to watch them and to see these young players who are always looking ahead and some can definitely be a part of the senior national team.”
“We can learn something from them,” an excited Peretz said. “They have had an incredible run and they have battled until the last minute. They have shown what it’s like to be a winner which is something that we can take from them and they deserve all of the credit in the world. These players can be key contributors in the future and that is going to be something very special.”
With the game against Belarus taking place in an empty stadium save for a few locals, Israel will still need to be sharp in order to maximize their opportunities Haziza said, “It won’t be easy to play in an empty stadium but the guys here all know what we need to do in order to win. We have seen a bit of Belarus and they have some quality players. We can take advantage of that since they won’t have fans but we need to come in ready to go and hopefully play well and take the 3 points.”
“I don’t believe that our draw was that easy,” Hazan commented. “Perhaps if we had taken 6 points in the first two games we would feel better. Our goal is to focus on our opponent and not worry who will be in the stands. We hope that there will be Israelis and local Jews that will come out and support us, but we will be ready no matter who is in the stadium.”