Soccer / National Team / Guttman Defends Roster Removal of Beloved Benayoun

Israel plays Luxembourg away on Friday and at home on Tuesday.

The dismissal of Yossi Benayoun from the men's national soccer team for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers dominated coach Eli Guttman's press conference yesterday.

Israel plays Luxembourg away on Friday and at home on Tuesday.

Guttman said that since the loss to Russia, he has kept quiet in order to gain insight. "We left our honor on the pitch in Ramat Gan - both in the result and in our performance - and we're going to the games against Luxembourg to restore that honor," he said.

"One of my insights is that there is no substitute for playing time, and that includes everybody. And it has nothing to do with whether he's called Yossi [Benayoun], Tal [Ben Haim], Itay [Shechter] or Ben [Sahar]. Benayoun is carved into the pages of history as one of the greatest players in Israeli soccer. I paid my respects to him and called him so he would hear it straight from me."

Guttman refused to go into details about his conversation with Benayoun, but he said the midfielder accepted his decision even if it disappointed him. He let the coach know he really wants to be on the national team. Guttman made clear the door is open for Benayoun to return, though it's vital to follow his direction.

"I'm not looking to hurt anyone," he said. "The decision is all mine. That's also the way I acted toward Ben Haim."

Guttman admitted that it looks from the outside like the team has lost its way. But he said the squad will look more organized against Luxembourg and will know what it wants.

"The players got the message and they're fully motivated to prove they deserve to be here," he said. "I want to see a team playing close together that knows when to press, that moves the ball, that creates scoring situations, that plays modern soccer and plays methodically rather than haphazardly."

Guttman rejected the notion that he would resign if Israeli failed to take six points from Luxembourg. "When I sign a contract, I fulfill it. I'm the Israel national team coach until the end of the campaign. It doesn't matter how many points I get," he said.

"I took everything into account when I was appointed coach. I knew this squad wasn't a team. I knew there aren't enough practice days, but I'm proud to sit here as national coach, even with one out of six points."

Guttman said he has taken some good things from Israel's failures. "Did we fail? Yes," he said. "It's disappointing, but it makes me more energetic, and I believe my way is good. I think about the positive. I'll do a final evaluation at the end of the campaign."

The team is scheduled to leave this afternoon for Luxembourg, having held two practices yesterday and one on Monday. Guttman told the players he was disappointed they didn't carry out his orders in previous games regarding ball movement, distance between players and pressure on opponents after losing the ball.

After opening against Russia with one striker, Guttman plans to open with Tomer Hemed alongside Eden Ben Basat or Shimon Abuhatzira. Bibras Natcho and Maharan Radi are shoo-ins for midfield. Avihay Yadin will probably join them.

Eitan Tibi will start again on defense, this time with Dekel Keinan instead of Ben Haim. The right defender position is reserved for Yuval Spungin. The coach is wavering between Yoav Ziv and Gal Shaish for left defender.

Nir Keidar