World soccer's governing body FIFA yesterday named Israel, as expected, in the fourth graded pool of European nations ahead of tomorrow's qualifying draw for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Ukraine, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Latvia and Wales were ranked alongside Israel.
In the qualiying tournaments for Euro 2004 and for the 2002 World Cup, Israel had been ranked in the third pool of European teams, but after failing dismally in both competitions, its ranking slipped and it was demoted to the fourth pool.
European teams will be drawn into three groups of seven teams and five groups of six teams to determine the 13 qualifiers from 51 nations in Europe, except for the automatically qualified host, Germany. Qualifying groups were formally comprised of five or six teams.
Under the new scheme, the eight group winners advance directly to the 2006 finals. Also through are the two best runners-up and the other six runners-up will be drawn into play-off ties to determine the remaining three teams.
France, Portugal, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Spain, Italy, England and Turkey were named in the top graded pool and will each head their qualifying groups.
Croatia, Belgium, Denmark, Russia, Ireland, Slovenia, Poland and the Netherlands were named in Pool B, while Bulgaria, Romania, Scotland, Serbia/Montenegro, Switzerland, Greece, Slovakia and Austria are in Pool C.
The new mode drew mixed reactions from top clubs whose international stars from various countries will now have to play at least 10 matches to make the finals, adding a new dimension to the club-or-country saga. But national teams will play fewer friendlies - these are games that rarely satisfy either teams or fans.
Israel Football Association chair Iche Menahem, his deputy Gideeon Brikman and national team coach Avraham Grant will attend tomorrow's draw in Frankfurt.
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