Satisfied with the national team's Group 6 draw for the Euro 2012 qualifying round, Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon can now focus his attention on filling the squad's coaching vacancy.
Israel will compete against Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Georgia and Malta for the right to advance to the Euro 2012 tournament, which will be played in Ukraine and Poland.
Yes, Israel will not have to face any of the continent's titans. And yes, a tournament berth is within reach - at least on paper. Now Luzon has less than a month to hire a coach who can lead the club to its first-ever appearance in the competition.
Three weeks from today, Israel will play a friendly international game against Romania. Ideally, the IFA chairman would like to see a coach in place for the match, which will also be a warm-up game for the Euro 2012 qualifying round. After yesterday's Euro draw in Poland, Luzon has good reason to be satisfied. In all likelihood, he will accelerate the hiring process as he looks to add a foreign coach.
IFA officials had been concerned that Israel would draw one of the elite teams on the continent - a class of countries that includes Germany, Italy, Spain, England, France and Holland. One factor which will help Israel lure a top-flight foreign coach is the fact that its Group 6 foes include second-tier countries like Croatia and Greece. IFA officials believe a quality coach may agree to take the job if he thinks he can advance into the tournament.
Another important factor heightening the sense of urgency in having a coach in place is determining the roster of players who will compete.
What needs to be done
In stark contrast to the team's failed campaign in the World Cup qualifying round, Luzon chose to maintain a low profile and refrained from making any bombastic statements after yesterday's announcement in Warsaw.
"This is a reasonable draw," Luzon said. "Usually we know for certain if the draw is good or bad based on the results of the matches. This time, as well, we will know at the end of the campaign if this was a good draw."
"We're familiar with Greece, Latvia and Croatia from previous campaigns," the IFA chairman continued. "We hope that this time the team can succeed in making some improvements."
Captain Yossi Benayoun prefers that the team focus less on statements to the press and more on results on the pitch. "I think we are familiar with most of these teams from previous campaigns and we can see, based on past experience, that this will be difficult," the Liverpool star said.
"We need to focus on ourselves, to know what needs to be done, where we need to improve in order to advance to the tournament," Benayoun added. "It's less important to talk about whether this is a difficult group or not - we saw in the previous campaign that it doesn't matter if the group is easier or harder."
Elyaniv Barda, who led the national team in goals scored during the failed drive for the World Cup, thinks Israel has its hands full. "This is a difficult draw," said the Be'er Sheva native, who is currently playing for Belgian side Racing Genk. "We know three of these teams very well. This is not an easy group. Georgia is also a very good team, but even if the group was harder, I would still say that Israel can advance to the Euro."
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