The most optimistic scenario that we could think of in terms of Israel's grouping in the Euro 2012 qualifying round is one that had the team facing Croatia and Greece. This is exactly what happened. In short, Avi Luzon did it again. You can complain about enlarging the Premier League and the foot-dragging in the search for a new coach, but one can't deny that Luzon has luck in tournament draws.
Nonetheless, the two years which have elapsed since the last draw has fostered a radical change in tone. Now the Israel Football Association chairman is refraining from bold declarations about an easy grouping. He won't vow, as he did last time: "Either we advance [to the World Cup]," or I'll resign."
Now, Luzon speaks calmly of the "reasonable draw" while patiently awaiting "the results at the end of the campaign." Suddenly, Yossi Benayoun, who could barely contain himself over "the best opportunity in history to reach the World Cup," now says that he "knows it will be difficult."
The national players are now limiting themselves to low-key, responsible statements. "We learned from our past mistakes when we got too excited," said Omer Golan.
So who says that Dror Kashtan failed as national team coach? He managed to inculcate a wisdom and sensitivity among his players and made soccer observers in this country aware of the national squad's shortcomings. From an educational standpoint, this is a Herculean achievement, far more significant than advancing to the World Cup. Perhaps Kashtan's next job should be working for Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar.
Croatia is on the decline, but its rate of success against Israel is 100 percent. Greece's roster is getting older, but Israel managed to wrest just one point against it last year. Latvia has already done plenty of damage to Israel in the past. Georgia is not as intimidating as thought, but Israelis have always feared Georgians. Malta is weak and invariably finishes in last place, yet not even Avraham Grant managed to beat them on their home pitch. In other words, the story here is not the opponents, but the players who will wear blue and white.
Israel remains without a coach. Turkey also has yet to fill its vacancy. The absence of a coach seven months prior to the start of the qualifying campaign is not problematic in itself but the resumes of local coaches are embarrassing.
Luzon correctly stated that he intends to hire a foreign coach. One should hope that he sticks to his plan. Fatih Terim, one of the most successful coaches and players in Turkish soccer, is available. As is Zico, who is intimately familiar with some of the players in Greece. The Brazilian will bring his soccer expertise. Even if that doesn't work out, Eyal Berkovic is welcome to launch another futile media campaign for the job of national coach.
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