BEN HAIM

Israel captain Tal Ben Haim

by Andrew Sherwood

Israeli captain Tal Ben Haim says he’s confident they can secure third-place in Group B and secure a play-off tie in their bid to qualify for next summer’s European Championships in France.

The former Chelsea defender was happy with the side’s point in Cardiff at the weekend, where they frustrated Wales to earn a 0-0 draw, and what could prove to be a priceless point in their bid to wrap up third place in the table.

He said: “I’m happy because we kept a clean sheet against a very good side, it’s not easy playing against a side who are going for top place and who have top players, but we stuck to our game plan, defended well, everyone gave 100 percent.

“We wanted to keep the clean sheet and overall we’re happy with the performance and the team spirit. We carried out on the pitch what we’d practiced over the last two days.”
Despite coming under some criticism for their perceived ‘parking-the-bus tactics’, he said: “We’re not concerned about only creating one or two chances because in these type of games, up against players like Gareth Bale, everyone had to defend really well, we wanted to keep a clean sheet and are happy that we did.

“When we played them at home, we played some good football in the first half, but when you concede a goal right at the end of the first half, and then get a red card at the start of the second, it changes everything. We know you can’t give space to the likes of Bale and I’m happy everyone made it very difficult for him.”

Saying it would be a ‘dream’ if they can reach France, he said: “We’re confident we can qualify through a play-off, we’ve played against some great teams in Wales and Belgium, who can call on fantastic players from Real Madrid, Arsenal, Chelsea, so it’s good for us to play against these sides. If we can finish third, I think it will be a good opportunity for us to qualify.

“You can play at the likes of Chelsea, but for me, you can’t compare a dream of reaching a major tournament with Israel and we will do everything we can to make sure we can achieve that.”

Refuting claims they got lucky when the referee failed to award Wales a penalty when Eytan Tibi seemed to handle Neil Taylor’s deflected cross in the box, he said: “It was never a handball because he chested it. I also wasn’t worried when they did get the ball in the net at the end, as I saw the flag go up for offside straight away.”

His sentiments were echoed by Celtic midfielder Nir Bitton, who said: “It was a very important point for us, we knew before the game that if we could get a draw it would help us on our way to qualifying for France, and I’m happy to have got that and can now look forward to our next match.

“I think Wales were a little bit better than us, but we knew before the game that they were going to press us with their fans hoping they’d beat us and qualify tonight. I’m just happy we got the point and we can now continue.

“I think to finish in second place [and guarantee qualification] will be difficult for us but we’ll try to get third place. We’re in a good position right now, have two more difficult games, a very important one against Cyprus next month, but we’ll do the best we can to get through.”

Manager Eli Guttman was delighted with the performance, saying: “My plan was to get one point. We’d have taken a draw before the game, were focussed on the defence and I was happy to take a point. We didn’t concede a goal which is what we set out to do, we wanted four points from these two games and that’s what we got.

“Wales is wonderful team with a good coach, but we deserved a point. They have a system that not many sides play and it gave us some difficulties in the first game. But they’re a team with Premier League players in it, and I didn’t that give them any advantage today. We got two or three players around Gareth Bale and we negated him.”
Not being as open as to which position in the table he thinks his side can finish in, he said: “I can’t speak yet about that because there are still two games left. Everything depends on the next game, I think Wales are strong enough to get a point in Bosnia and we need to do our job.”