World Cup 2014 / Hoping for the worst / Israel's Mondial dreams rest on getting a weak draw
The Israeli soccer fraternity may be focused on early September, when the national team takes on Greece in a do-or-die encounter in the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, but this evening all eyes will be on the draw for the qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Head coach Luis Fernandez and the rest of the national team will be hoping that Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon returns from Rio de Janeiro with a draw that gives Israel a decent chance of making the finals for the first time since 1970.
"Obviously, we're hoping to be drawn against some of the weaker teams in Europe," Luzon told Haaretz prior to his departure for South America, "to maximize our chances of qualifying."
Almog Cohen, the national team midfielder who plays for German side FC Nuremberg, said that "apart from Germany and Spain, I don't care who we're drawn against. We're capable of beating any team on our day."
The 53 nations that will take part in the European section of the qualification tournament have been divided up into six groups - nine in the top five levels and a sixth level of eight nations. Israel is in the third tier and cannot be drawn against the other third-tier nations: Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Bosnia, Belarus, Ukraine and Hungary.
The teams will be drawn into eight groups of six, with a ninth group containing five teams. At the end of the qualifying tournament, the top team in each group will get an automatic place in the World Cup finals and the eight runners up will meet for a two-leg playoff in November 2013 - from which four will also qualify. The qualification tournament will kick off on September 15 next year and end some 13 months later.
Because of political tension between certain nations - Russia and Georgia, for example - FIFA has adopted the same policy as UEFA and will ensure that rival nations are not pitted against each other.
Europe, as always, will send more representatives to the World Cup than any other continent. Africa, where there are 52 competing countries, will send just five, while the 43 Asian hopefuls will be whittled down to four. North and Central America will send three teams.
The final tournament will begin in Brazil on June 12, 2014 and the final itself will be held on July 13, 2014.