Israel take on Bosnia and Herzegovina on Friday night knowing they need to avoid defeat to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for next summer’s European Championships.
Eli Guttman’s side currently sit in third place in Group B and will be looking to avoid a third consecutive defeat having been beaten at home by Wales and Belgium in March.
Hoping for a repeat performance of when the sides met in Tel Aviv last November, when they comprehensively beat the Bosnian’s 3-0, Guttman said: “We‘re starting the crucial second round of matches. Playing Bosnia on the road will be very different and we will have to make adjustments.”
Israel will be boosted by the return of their top goalscorer in the qualifying campaign, Omer Damari, who missed the Belgium match through injury, while the squad will once more be captained by Tal Ben Haim.
Midfielder Bebras Natcho will be one of the more experienced players in the squad and is under no illusion as to the importance of the match. Warning his teammates over complacency, he said: “You can see how important this match is simply by glancing at the standings. But if we start thinking that this is a do-or-die qualifier, we’ll put ourselves under pressure and that isn’t good. We need to be focused and remain humble.
“Before the match against Wales we thought that if we win we will already be in Euro 2016, that was our mistake and we need to make up for it.”
The Bosnians are equally aware of the significance of the match, with defender Mensur Mujdza saying: “We have to win this match. It will be different to the one in Israel and we’ve got together early to build up our physical shape. That loss we suffered in Israel can help [inspire] us for this game and we’ll do everything we can to get back at them.”
Centre-back Ognjen Vranjes said: “The whole team is aware of the importance of this match and we’ve approached our training sessions very seriously in order to be ready. The atmosphere is great, we possess a quality to beat Israel, we have a lot of experience and our will to win could be of utmost importance.”
Israel have never lost to Bosnia in a senior match, beating them 3-1 in Tel Aviv and drawing 0-0 in Sarajevo during the 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign. Avoiding defeat tomorrow night will go a long way to all but securing third spot in the table, which would guarantee them at least a play-off match to reach France next year.