Duty flee

Yossi flies in to seal Reds deal – then he's back on the wing for Israel game


By Danny Caro and Simon Griver, September 1, 2011
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No sooner had he passed a medical and signed for Arsenal than did Yossi Benayoun rejoin his national teammates ahead of today's crucial Euro 2012 qualifier against Greece in Tel Aviv.

After flying to London on Wednesday, Benayoun completed his whistle-stop tour on transfer deadline day by joining the Gunners.

The Israel captain had been linked with potential moves to Spurs, Liverpool and Lille, but in the the end he agreed to go to the Emirates on a season-long loan from Chelsea.

The writing was on the wall for Benayoun, 31, when he handed his shirt number (10) to new signing Juan Mata. The playmaker, nicknamed The Kid from Dimona, made only eight appearances for the Blues after joining last year during an injury-plagued spell and slipped down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge.

Benayoun's move came as something of a distraction to Israel's preparation ahead of two must-win qualifiers in the space of five days. Following Friday's match against the group leaders, Luis Fernandez's troops will travel to Croatia whom they play on Tuesday in games that could effectively seal Israel's fate.

Israel go into the matches lying joint-second in Group F, a point behind Greece, who like Croatia have a game in hand, although they will meet on Yom Kippur. Israel's final game will be away to Malta on October 11.

After losing to Greece and Croatia last year, Israel revived its chances with victories over Georgia and Latvia in March. But Fernandez insists that Israel must improve to reach next summer's finals.

Fernandez said: "The way we played against Latvia and Georgia will not be good enough against Greece who are fast and physical. We must be strong and have the desire and the commitment if we want to beat Greece."

Portsmouth defender Tal Ben Haim is convinced that Israel can do the job. "A draw against Greece will be a failure. Greece are not Italy or Spain. We take them seriously but who knows when we will get a better opportunity to reach the finals of a major competition.

"We are good enough to finish at least second in this group and we would have really blown it if we can't beat Greece."

Israel suffered a blow when Genk striker Elyaniv Barda was ruled out by injury while Auxerre's Ben Sahar is nursing a swollen ankle. Otherwise Israel will be at full strength with Celtic's Beram Kayal returning to fitness.

Itay Shechter is likely to start up front after scoring his first Bundesliga goal for Kaiserslautern.

Last updated: 1:57pm, September 1 2011