Israel go into their World Cup double-header knowing that anything short of six points will end their hopes of reaching the finals in South Africa next summer.
Lying fourth in Group 2, they host Latvia tomorrow night and Luxembourg on Wednesday in the latest round of qualifiers.
Tal Ben Haim admits that Israel faces an uphill struggle. “We had bad results in games that we should have won,” he said. “We made mistakes and paid dearly. But that’s history and while we still have a small chance, we will do everything to stay in the picture.
“We need to win these two games to keep the dream alive, and hope that Greece help us, and then that will make next month’s game in Switzerland decisive.”
Lying a point behind Latvia and four behind Switzerland and Greece from six matches, Israel know that victory at Ramat Gan on Saturday will enable them to overhaul Latvia, while the clash between Switzerland and Greece in Basle will also determine Israel’s fortunes.
Ben Haim will miss the match against Latvia after picking up a second yellow card in the defeat in Greece earlier this year. Having not played a Premier League game since April 4, he is likely to start on the bench against Luxembourg, if the defence performs well against Latvia.
Tamir Cohen, who scored in Bolton’s 3-2 Premier League defeat against Liverpool, has been dropped while former West Ham player Yaniv Katan has been recalled in recognition of his superb form in seeing Maccabi Haifa through to the Champions League group stage.
Cohen’s father, former Liverpool star Avi, said: “The manager said that if he continues to play well for Bolton he can expect to be back in next month.”
Update: Tamir Cohen was drafted into the squad on Thursday to replace the injured Avihai Yadin
Expected starting XI against Latvia: Dudu Awat (Real Mallorca), Yoav Ziv (Lokeren), Dedi Ben Dayan (Hapoel Tel Aviv), Dekel Keinan (Maccabi Haifa), Avi Strul (Lokeren), Gal Alberman (Borussia Monchengladbach), Yossi Benayoun capt. (Liverpool), Yaniv Katan (Maccabi Haifa), Biram Kayal (Maccabi Haifa, Ben Sahar (Espanyol), Elyaniv Barda (Genk), Tamir Cohen (Bolton).