Israel's national soccer team faces an uphill battle tonight when it takes on Russia in its second Group F match of the World Cup 2014 qualifying round. Israel drew with Azerbaijan 1-1 in its opener Friday, while Russia is favored to finish in the top two along with Portugal.
Don't expect the Russians to try to decide the fate of the game early on in a full frontal assault with spears unleashed. The team, coached by former England coach Fabio Capello, will try to control the game. However, Russia won't force itself on its rival, particularly because it is playing on the road against one of its better opponents, and will minimize the opportunities for Israel to sting it with a counteroffensive.
Russia has not forgotten 2007, when it lost 2-1 to Israel in Ramat Gan during the Euro 2008 qualification stage.
The visitors will try to take advantage of the speed of its front line in Vladimir Bystrov and Aleksander Kerzhakov, and will try to highlight for the umpteenth time the local team's defensive problems.
Russia did not manage to generate anything significant against Northern Ireland's anemic midfield Friday night, but Capello did not seem fazed, knowing his team's technical superiority and its game on the wings would bring the desired result. Indeed, Russia won at home 2-0 without playing attractive soccer.
Capello's goal in Ramat Gan will be clear - to control the ball as much as possible and wait for scoring chances.
Russia's midfield is among the most dangerous in the world because the players know each other so well. Three of them - Igor Denisov, Roman Shirokov and Viktor Fayzulin - all play on Zenit St. Petersburg and have amassed 434 matches and 58 league goals together. While Fayzulin is a relative rookie on the national squad with one goal in two matches, he knows the other two almost blind. His relationship with his teammates was the main reason Capello called him up - straight into the starting 11.
All three are capable of being playmakers and feeding the speedy Bystrov and Alan Dzagoev on the wings as well as Kerzhakov down the middle. Israel will have little chance of pulling off an upset without making a dent in this setup.
Mac. Haifa wins Toto Cup bragging rights
Maccabi Haifa got the best of Kiryat Shmona last night, winning 2-0 away to finish top of Group A of soccer's Toto Cup competition.
Both teams were guaranteed to advance from the top two slots, with last night's victor gaining the honor of winning the group.
Eyal Meshumar put Haifa on board in the 21st minute. Gustavo Boccoli drew a red card three minutes later, but even shorthanded Haifa dominated as Dela Yampolsky added a second goal in the 30th minute.