Israel expects as 2010 bid gets under way
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Israel's 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign kicks off tomorrow with a home tie against Switzerland
followed by a trip to Moldova on Wednesday.
They start with high expectations as Dror Kashtan's team are confident of reaching the finals for the first time in 40 years. But after the euphoria of the draw which placed Israel in a relatively easy group alongside Greece, Switzerland, Moldova, Latvia and Luxembourg, now comes the realisation that reaching the finals in South Africa will be no simple matter.
Switzerland, although seeded third in the group behind Greece and Israel, come to Ramat Gan with a team comprised almost entirely of players in Europe's top leagues and managed by Ottmar Hitzfeld, who has won the Champions League with both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
"We have a reasonable draw," said Kashtan. "But Greece and Switzerland are strong teams and we can only qualify for the World Cup finals if the players improve on previous performances.
"To reach South Africa, we must all pull together and that includes encouragement from the fans and the media as well as extra effort from the players."
Israel's only fitness doubt is midfielder Gal Alberman who injured his back when playing for Borussia Monchengladbach last weekend. There could be a recall for Salim Tuame who is in fine form with Standard Liege.
There is speculation that Kashtan will drop Dudu Awat as the keeper has fallen out of favour at Deportivo La Coruna. But a bad error by Maccabi Haifa's Nir Davidovich, who punched a corner into his own net on the opening day of the Israeli league season, should give Awat the nod.
Israeli fans will be hoping for a repeat of the wonderful brace that Yossi Benayoun scored when Israel hosted Switzerland in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers - the last time that the Liverpool midfielder gave a sparkling performance for his country.
Last week, Israel FA chairman Avi Luzon revealed that he had considered sacking Dror Kashtan after Israel's pathetic display in the 3-0 defeat at Wembley against England last September in the Euro 2008 qualifiers.
The absence of an obvious Israeli successor and lack of budget to bring in a top European coach saved Kashtan's neck and subsequent victories over Russia and Macedonia have earned the Israeli coach an additional chance.
Hapoel Tel Aviv have been drawn against French side St Etienne in the first round of the Uefa Cup.