Win at all costs: Israel opens up World Cup qualifying campaign against Poland

Israel takes on Poland Thursday evening (7pm) at a sold out Drive In Arena in Tel Aviv as the Blue & White open up the 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign. Guy Goodes will be manning the sidelines in his debut for the hosts while the visitors will also have a new coach in Igor Milicic who replaced long time Poland coach Mike Taylor.

Goodes will have almost a full complement of players at his disposal from European based Tomer Ginat, Gal Mekel and Yam Madar to Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Iftach Ziv and Jake Cohen. In fact, the only players that Israel will be missing is Tamir Blatt and Yovel Zoosman from ALBA Berlin who will ironically be playing against Maccabi in Euroleague action roughly 30 minutes following the conclusion of Israel’s game. Of course, the NBA based Deni Avdija will also not be able to play but all in all, Israel has a fairly solid roster of players heading into what is a “must win game.”

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Yes, the words “must win” is already being uttered and the qualification tourney hasn’t even begun. Israel needs to actually win both this game and Sunday’s matchup at Estonia if they have any real designs to advance to the World Cup. That’s because they will need to finish as high as possible in the group in order to start the second round in good position to make their move as first round wins get carried over to the next. The bottom line is the Blue & White need to win, win and win as much as they can.

Goodes is well aware that this is the case and he’s been handed a ready made team to do just that. A squad that was constructed over the past few years under the tutelage of Oded Katash who led Israel to oh so close in qualifying for the 2019 World Cup had it not been a bounce here and bounce there while also punching their ticket to the 2022 Eurobasket tournament.

“You only have three days to put together a team that can meet the challenge. They have incredible energy and I have to slow them down a bit. One of our advantages is that we have a group that have played together for some time and that is one of the great things about our National Team. But this doesn’t mean anything about the game itself and we need to be sharp, energetic and play well,” Goodes said.

Guy Pnini and gal Mekel – Photo Credit: FIBA

The majority of the players have been together for some time now and the only one making his debut is guard Roi Huber who was brought into the squad due to the need of an extra point guard. Both Gal Mekel and Yam Madar are coming off of minor injuries while Noam Dovrat who was cut early on, is still overcoming an elbow injury suffered at the end of last season.

In essence this squad is tailor made to succeed. From the players already mentioned to Rafi Menco, Guy Pnini, Adam Ariel, Itay segev, Idan Zalmanson and Nimrod Levi, these players are all familiar with each other and know what to expect on the court.

There is no time for experimentation and Goodes knows it.

Poland comes into the game a bit short handed without their naturalized star in AJ Slaughter, Zenit St. Petersburg star Mateusz Ponitka as well as Michal Michalak and Michal Sokolowski. They do however have a very big, big man in 21 year old Aleksander Roman “Olek” Balcerowski who stands at 2.19 meters or 7”2 who is playing his team ball for Mega Basket after being loaned out by Gran Canaria. He will be a tall order to stop and that is where Israel will need to be very careful to not be exposed

Olek Balcerowski – Photo Credit: FIBA

Former Poland coach Mike Taylor was singing his praises back in 2019 before the last World Cup when he told the FIBA website, “Olek has tremendous potential he’s got a bright future ahead of him in basketball. He’s being prepared well in Gran Canaria and he’s come from a great family that helps him stay grounded. I think he’s done a fantastic job considering the bright lights and the stage that he is on. He is a very down to earth, great kid.”

However, Goodes doesn’t see this is a huge advantage, “Basketball isn’t determined by height, it’s determined by desire, ability and speed. They have two big centers and they may play more of an inside game. They have a new coach and we know his style so we will try to prepare ourselves as to how they play.”

While only three Polish players featured against Israel the last time they played one another roughly a year ago, Israel has 9 players who were at the bubble in Valencia, Spain and won 78-72. That is a big advantage and Israel must use that to their utmost ability.

Sure, Balcerowski could be a big problem inside but Poland is not coming into this game in pole position. This is a team that Israel should handily take care of.

Of course that is on paper and you never quite know what will be on the court which Goodes is aware of. No matter what happens, he needs to win this game by hook or by crook in front of a partisan home crowd.

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  1. DME

    Disappointed to see Dorvat and Yovel out of the lineup. What happened ?

    • Joshua Halickman

      Zoosman was not released by ALBA while Dovrat was released as he is still dealing with an elbow injury.

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