By Danny Caro
September 10, 2009
They say that there are no easy games in football these days. Try telling that to Israel's footballers, who have just thumped Luxembourg 7-0 in a World Cup qualifier.
Unfortunately, unless there is another dramatic twist, it is a case of too little, too late. The damage was done on Saturday when they lost 1-0 at home to Latvia.
Mathematically, Dror Kashtan's men still have a chance of finishing second in the group, which would earn them a crack at the playoffs. But when you look at who former European champions Greece have got, it tells you that Israel will need a lot of luck to keep their dream alive.
When the teams for Group 2 were drawn, there was genuine belief that Israel could finish top. Switzerland and Moldova were the others sides that came out.
The group is far from settled. Israel still have Moldova at home followed by the Swiss away but they need the Greeks to slip up at home to Latvia and Luxembourg if they are to squeeze into the playoffs through the back door.
Switzerland, who look set to finish as group winners, travel to Luxembourg before hosting Israel. Latvia finish against Moldova.
The bottom line is that Israel have blown a golden chance to reach the finals for the first time since 1970. For me, the buck has to stop with the manager. Dror Kashtan. Having missed out on qualification for World Cup 2006 on goal difference, you'd have thought that he'd have learnt his lesson. But he clearly has not.
Their World Cup group four years ago was arguably tougher with France, the Republic of Ireland and Switzerland among their rivals. Heroically, they drew against all of them but went out as a result of not scoring enough goals. This can also be explained by the fact that they were not attacking enough, preferring to adopt tactics to nullify the opposition. Kashtan clearly lacks a killer instinct.
The memories of Omer Golan scoring the winner against Russia to give Steve McClaren's England a lifeline two years ago is still clear in the memory of most football fans. The difference is that on that day they had nothing to lose.
Under Kashtan, Israel have relied on the brilliance of keeper Dudu Awat and a sound defence. At the back they have given little away but the strikers have been starved of the ball, even against the minnows.
Refreshing as the 7-0 win over Luxembourg was, it was proof of what Israel can do when given the licence. With the majority of the squad playing outside of Israel - Yossi Benayoun, Tal Ben Haim and Tamir Cohen in the Premiership, Barda at Genk, Roberto Colautti in the Bundesliga and Ben Sahar and Awat in La Liga - it's clear Israel has the players. But they have paid the price for not taking calculated gambles.
Israel FA chairman Avi Luzon has taken action to ensure that Israel’s talented squad does not suffer and under-perform in the way that England did under Steve McClaren.
Kashtan will cease to be the national boss when the qualifying programme reaches its conclusion. Many believe that he should stand down now.
I was originally against the idea of appointing a foreigner for a national role but the success of Fabio Capello with England and Giovanni Trapattoni has led me to believe otherwise.
A new face with new ideas is just what Israel need. Avram Grant, Luzon's No. 1 choice, has had one go already while Eyal Berkovic, the people's choice in Israel, lacks experience.
Luzon wants Slaven Bilic but there's more chance of Israel winning the World Cup. Luzon wants the new man appointed by February, when the draw for Euro 2012 is made.
So the search to find the new boss continues. David Pleat recently told me that he would be “happy to help the IFA find the right man”. Throwing some names into the hat, John Gregory has been touted as a club manager in Israel. German World Cup winning captain Lothar Matthäus tried and failed in Netanya. With an Israeli wife, Graeme Souness might be another candidate. But none of these names are tried and tested on the international stage, so would be considered a gamble. There is also Jose Pekerman, the former Argentina boss.
The IFA have five months to get the right man, the man to put the pride back into Israel football. They must get it right this time.