Israeli coach Eli Guttman has told Jewish News that he’s confident he can lead the country to their first major football tournament since 1970.
Having not qualified for a major championships since the Mexico World Cup 54 years ago, Israel begin their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign on Friday night and Guttman believes they can qualify from their group and reach France in two years time.
He said: “I’m confident that now we have a good chance because 24 teams will qualify. But, we should remember that four teams – Bosnia, Israel, Cyprus and Wales will fight for second and third place at the group”.
Knowing that a top-two place will guarantee qualification, while third will secure them a play-off tie, if not automatic qualification, he said: “We will know who the best two teams are at the end of the campaign, but I’m sure we can fight for third place and even for second spot.
“I think Belgium’s in another league, but the rest of the teams can fight and challenge each other”.
Beginning on Friday with a trip to Cyprus, they then face Andorra on Monday night. Hoping to get the campaign off to a good start, he says: “Sure it’s important to start with good results, but at this stage I prefer to speak only about the Cyprus game. They won in Bosnia and have speedy players in the attack. It will not be easy but I believe in my players.”
Omitted from the squad is former captain Yossi Benayoun, though Guttman says he can still play a part in the qualifying campaign. “Yossi was injured four weeks ago and that is the main reason why he hasn’t been called up”, he said. “We have a game next month and if he shows good ability in the league, he will be in the squad. But the Israel national team has a good generation of players that know what is the aim and focus of this campaign”.
And saying how happy he would be to lead the side to France, he says: “I will feel big satisfaction and will be proud of my players if we can achieve it. I’m sure that the national team fans and the citizens of Israel will also feel a big joy because football is the main sport in Israel.”
• All of Israel’s Euro 2016 qualifiers can be seen live on Sky Sports 5