Israel to Open Its Campaign Against Host Netherlands

Israel's group to also include Portugal and Belgium.

Israel's U-21 squad will open the European Championship on June 10, 2007 against the defending champion and host, the Netherlands.

In addition to the Netherlands, Israel's other Group A opponents will be Belgium and Portugal, based on Friday's draw held in Arnhem, the Netherlands.

Five-time champion Italy, England, Serbia and the Czech Republic make up Group B.

The Dutch won the trophy last June in Portugal after beating Ukraine 3-0 in the final.

The top two teams in each group will advance to the semifinals, which will be played in Heerenveen and Arnhem on June 20, with the final set for Groningen on June 23.

The semifinalists will automatically qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, although if England reaches the final four, a playoff will be needed between the third-place teams from each group. England cannot play in the Olympics, since the International Olympic Committee recognizes Great Britain as a member.

Israel coach Guy Levi, who represented the team at the draw along with manager Eli Rosen and Israel Football Association General Secretary Haim Zimmer, said he had no qualms with the squad's opener against the Netherlands. "It's a great honor for our modest team to face the defending champs and hosts - a squad that is at the highest level - in the opening match. Portugal has been ranked at the top of world soccer for years, and the team has many quality players. Also Belgium is considered to be a good squad."

Meanwhile, the coach of Israel's first opponent, Foppe de Haan said, was pleased with the draw. "We could have had a far worse draw," de Haan said. "I'm satisfied that we're not playing against Italy and England, since they're two very dangerous squads. I don't really know the Israeli team, but we'll gather material."

Portuguese coach Jose Couceiro acknowledged the strength of the group. "It's very important for us to win our first match against Belgium, but our goal is to reach the final. As the host and defending champion, the Netherlands is particularly strong. Israel beat France, and that shows the team's progress and strength."

Belgian coach Jean Francois de Sart was noncommittal about the draw. "I can't say at this stage whether the draw is good or bad. The Netherlands, of course, is the favorite, Portugal has a lot of experience at this level, and after Israel beat a squad like France, you have to take the team seriously."