Tal Benin and Luis Fernandez at a press conference this month.
Tal Benin and Luis Fernandez at a press conference this month. Photo by Nir Keidar
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The Luis Fernandez era is slated to begin in earnest late tonight with Israel meeting Uruguay in a friendly international in front of 40,000 spectators at the Centenario Stadium in Montevideo. Fernandez says he does not attach any special importance to the result. Rather, he says, the aim is to get to know the players from up close, improve team chemistry, learn how the coaching staff works and prepare the team for its European qualifier against Malta in September.

No doubt Fernandez is inheriting a more mature squad than the one Dror Kashtan received in 2006. Gil Vermouth, Itay Shechter and Avihai Yadin, who are expected to start for the Frenchman, arrive on the heels of their Double title with Hapoel Tel Aviv full of confidence. None of them saw much time in previous international campaigns. In addition, players who sat on the bench in Europe, like Yoav Ziv, Roberto Colautti, Avi Strool and probably Ben Sahar as well are expected to get a lot more minutes in Israel and to keep fit. Even the departure of veteran Nir Davidovitch may benefit Fernandez, who will be saved confrontations between the Maccabi Haifa goalkeeper and Dudu Aouate over who will start.

Tal Banin, the squad's assistant coach, made most of the decisions about the makeup of the team playing in Uruguay because Fernandez only managed to see two games since taking up the job in March. In general, he relied heavily on Banin despite advice to the contrary from the Israel Football Association. He refused to appoint Eli Ohana or Motti Ivanir to be his assistants. Ivanir arguably knows the younger players better, having been the national under-21 coach.

"We offered Fernandez a highly qualified assistant," said an IFA official. "He disagreed, and that's his right. Now he'll be on his own regarding his success or failure."

The official added: "If, heaven forbid, the team fails, he and Banin will have to pack their bags."