Alon Turjeman, the lone striker in Guy Luzon’s 4-5-1 setup, is a testimony to the fact that the coach of the men’s national soccer team has correctly understood Israeli soccer’s place on the European stage. He realizes that Israel is small enough to allow us to take part in a tournament − only if we are hosting it.
It’s summer outside, hot and humid, but Luzon doesn’t take his charges out to the street without a sweater that will cover as much as possible; a trio of midfielders − Nir Biton, Marwan Kabha and Ofir Krieff − which is able to push forward but mainly to make sure it doesn’t get pushed back, alongside the lone striker, is the desired conclusion. Luzon is keeping modest.
That’s not to say the national team is incapable of punishing any opponent who misjudges it. Like elastic, it is stretchable and able to change its shape quickly.
That adaptability was the source of Israel’s lone goal in the eighth minute against Slovakia Wednesday night, when it won its friendly at home 1-0. It took one successful play by Eyal Golasa − one of the few in the national squad who can shine at any spot − to clear the way for teammate Sintayehu Sallalich, who in turn passed the ball to Ofer Verta, who joined in from the right side.
The defender − who attacks when needed and guards the rest of the time − made a cross that Turjeman efficiently exploited. Efficiency is the key word. The squad, let us say it gently, is not expected to pay a visit to England or Italy’s penalty area. In order to advance from Group A, which also includes Norway, Israel will have to get a lot out of the little it has been given.
With sparks of personal initiative and the right combination of responsibility and bravery that allows the team to identify the moment it can bare its teeth, Israel can get the job done.
Not everything is so rosy, though. From the goalpost to midfield, the team did not create one scoring opportunity against Slovakia. Whether it searched for one and didn’t manage, or settled for less, only Luzon and the players know. One thing is certain. The advantage only heightened the suspicion; Verta and Ofir Davidadza, the left fullback, refused to pass the midline. Krieff, who opened the game close enough to Turjeman to observe the color of his eyes, distanced himself from the striker as the minutes went by and sought to ensure that Biton and Kabha weren’t messing around in the mid-circle.
Nine substitutions were made with the beginning of the second half. Besides Sallalich, Krieff and the coach − who will also be replaced soon − everyone vacated his spot.
It was, it seems, the first and last taste of a European adventure. Everyone would agree that the main thing was the experience, at least until it gets started in earnest in five days.