Even for professional Israeli soccer players, facing Cristiano Ronaldo can be an exciting moment. Mallorca striker Tomer Hemed has already faced the Portuguese phenomenon and his Real Madrid teammate Pepe; on Saturday, Mallorca was thrashed 5-2 by Real. But Hemed, Israel's top scorer in the World Cup qualifiers, insists Israel's game Friday against Portugal is completely different.
"I don't think one can compare playing Real Madrid in the Spanish league to a World Cup qualifier against Portugal,"Hemed says. "In the league there are immense differences between Real and Barcelona and all the other teams, and we're well aware that there are many games we can collect points from."
And when playing for the national team, skill levels matter less because every player gives his all for 90 minutes and every game counts, he says.
"We shouldn't be focusing on Portugal's advantages because in soccer the better team doesn't necessarily win," Hemed says. "I can promise all the fans coming to Ramat Gan on Friday that we'll give our all, that we'll deserve applause after the final whistle, regardless of the outcome."
Success with the national team would do much to bolster Hemed's career, considering Mallorca's dire form in the Spanish league. Spanish journalists believe he still hasn't realized his potential. "He's a good striker, very hungry, and the fans love his motivation even when he comes on as a substitute," a Mallorca journalist told Haaretz after Saturday's contest in Madrid.
Hemed hopes to help save his team from relegation but is also considering greener pastures, perhaps in Germany's Bundesliga. "As far as physique and style are concerned, Hemed can fit in with the tougher European leagues," the Spanish journalist says.
Still, Hemed is fully concentrating on the game against Portugal. "It's very important that we focus on the whole Portuguese team, not just Ronaldo," Hemed says. "He's a great player, but he doesn't play alone."
Did you offer coach Eli Guttman tips on how to stop Ronaldo?
Everybody is aware of Ronaldo's qualities. Guttman doesn't need my advice. He has been eating, sleeping and dreaming about Portugal every day and night since the Luxembourg game."
Guttman fears Portugal's attack and is focusing on defense. Will it be a one-dimensional game?
"No, we're aware of their capabilities, but if we follow Guttman's instructions, I'm sure we'll attack as well and have our chances, and if we take them we very well might get the result we need.
"A draw isn't enough. It's not a good result for us because we still have to play in Portugal and Russia. We'll look the rival in the eye and play with the belief that we can win."
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