Latvia game is critical, says coach Fernandez

Latvia game is critical, says coach Fernandez


By Simon Griver, June 2, 2011
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The return of captain Yossi Benayoun (left) is a major boost for Israel

The return of captain Yossi Benayoun (left) is a major boost for Israel

Luis Fernandez has described tomorrow's Euro 2012 qualifier in Latvia as win or bust.

Israel go into the match lying third in Group F. They trail leaders Greece by a point and are level on points with second-placed Croatia, having played a game more than both their rivals.

Fernandez believes that Israel needs to win one of the two games when they host Greece and travel to Croatia in September to have any chance of a top-two finish. But he insists that those games will become irrelevant if Israel fails to take three points in Riga. "Everybody understands the importance of the game in Latvia," said Fernandez. "We really had to sweat to beat them at Bloomfield, so we know what a difficult task we have in Latvia. We must give everything on the pitch."

Israel's chances have not been made any easier with injuries to key players.

Celtic midfielder Beram Kayal is recovering from surgery on a broken wrist while strikers Elyaniv Barda and Itay Shechter and midfielder Gili Vermouth are all sidelined.

But captain Yossi Benayoun who missed most of the season, returns. He said: "Having just recovered from a very serious injury, I feel great now and I'm looking forward to what will be the most important year of my career."

Fernandez is likely to start with both Tal Ben Haims for the first time.

There was confusion in March when Maccabi Petach Tikvah striker Ben Haim came on as a second-half substitute to score the winner against Georgia with some English papers mistakenly reporting that Portsmouth defender Ben Haim had scored.

Maccabi Haifa's Tomer Hemed is likely to make his debut partnering Ben Haim up front. There are reports that Rangers coach Ian Durrant will be in Riga to assess Hemed.

Cardiff defender Dekel Keinan along with midfielders Bibers Natcho and Almog Cohen are expected to start.

‚óŹ Israel FA Cup winners Hapoel Tel Aviv look set to lose four players. Itay Shechter and Gili Vermouth have agreed personal terms with Kaiserslautern. Eran Zehavi is in talks to join Palermo of Serie A, while Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama is close to moving to French champions Lille. Dani Bondarv has started the exodus after joining Russia club Volga Nizhny Novgorod.

    Last updated: 3:04pm, June 2 2011