WITHOUT wishing to sound too dramatic, Sunday’s draw for the 2016 European Championships in France has handed Israel what must be their best ever chance of qualifying for the tournament. Pitted in a six-team group where the top two qualify, while Belgium are the undoubted favourites to top the group, Eli Guttman’s side should be vying with Bosnia Herzegovina for runners-up spot. If they can reproduce the performances of their last qualifying campaign, which saw them draw 1-1 in Lisbon, lead Portugal 3-1 in Tel Aviv going into the 89th minute, and even cruise to a 2-0 win in Belfast, then there’s no reason why they can’t make their tournament bow in two years’ time. And given that the new format also sees third spot qualify for a play-off tie, if they can’t at least attain that ahead of Wales, Cyprus and Andorra, well then, quite simply, there is no hope.
SPEAKING of which, Israel didn’t disappoint in their Winter Olympics campaign. But when pre-Games hopes are for your athletes – all five of them – to just qualify past the heat stage you’re not exactly setting yourself up for a big fall. That though did come courtesy of figure skater Alexei Bychenko who toppled over on his way to a 21st place finish. The Israeli campaign was summed up by skier Virgile Vandeput, who didn’t even manage it onto the snow after he suffered a leg injury during training, forcing him to miss out on both the slalom and giant slalom events. He said: “It is with a big frustration that my Olympic games are finishing here without any chance to prove my level to everyone. It is very hard to be just in front of a dream and to see this dream broken in one second. I am very frustrated, disappointed, but mainly very sad.” Maybe that despair can spur him on in four years’ time for the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where Israel will once more be looking to win their first Winter Games medal.