Israel captain Yossi Benayoun may be given a pain-killing injection to get him through tomorrow night’s 2010 World Cup qualifier against Group Two leaders Greece.
The Liverpool star remains a major doubt going into the double-header against the 2004 European Championship winners with a hamstring injury that kept him out of the recent games against Real Madrid, Manchester United and Aston Villa.
The attacking-midfielder has not played since scoring in Liverpool’s 2-0 victory over Sunderland on March 4.
And his call-up into the national squad has led to a dispute between his club and the Israel FA over his lack of fitness.
Benayoun, 28, confirmed that Liverpool had initially refused to release him for international duty and sent a fax to the IFA confirming his condition.
“It was a formality to let Israel know about the injury,” explained Benayoun.
“I persuaded Liverpool to release me and give me the opportunity to play. The injury is improving and we will see how the situation develops but if I cannot play it will be the greatest disappointment of my career. Even so, we have a strong squad that can win without me.”
The Ramat Gan contest will be followed by the return in Crete on Wednesday. Going into the match, Israel lies a point behind Greece and one point ahead of Switzerland.
Benayoun was still unable to train on Wednesday and he will not be match fit if he plays. Manager Dror Kashtan can take comfort for the fact that Israel beat Russia 2-1 in the Euro 2008 qualifiers in November 2007 without his captain.
Another positive is the return to form of Dudu Awat, who has re-established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in Spain since moving to Real Mallorca in January.
Sunderland’s Tal Ben Haim was equally upbeat, saying: “This is a one time opportunity to make history and reach the finals. I respect Greece but they are not one of Europe’s strongest teams. We have the players to beat them.”
Anything less than four points over the two games against Greece will leave Israel struggling to top the group and earn automatic qualification for their first World Cup finals in 40 years.
The squad: Awat, Davidovitch, Strauber, Ben Haim, Ziv, Ben Dayan, Saban, Deinan, Meshumar, Mori, Benayoun (capt), Alberman, Cohen, Kayal, Baruchyan, Gazal, Vermouth, Sahar, Schachter, Golan, Barda, Itzhaki, Ben Shushan