Soccer / Search for National Coach Nearing End

Winfried Schafer, the German soccer coach who lead Cameroon to the African Nations Cup title in 2002, and Luis Fernandez, the Frenchman who enjoyed a successful stint as manager of Beitar Jerusalem, are the two leading candidates to replace Dror Kashtan as Israel's national team coach.

Schafer, who goes by the moniker "Winnie," is a fiery personality who just celebrated his 60th birthday. Despite his age, he is raring to get back on the sidelines.

"Sixty is the ideal age for coaching," he was quoted as saying. "The experience and knowledge that I gained didn't come from reading books or watching television. I amassed it."

Schafer, who has burnished his image as a father figure and teacher of the game, is well respected among players in Germany.

"The one who made me into a person and a player is Schafer," said Mehmet Scholl, the retired Bayern Munich star who first encountered the coach during their days at Karlsruher. "I would've been lost without his guidance. It's only to his credit that I got as far as I did."

Fernandez, meanwhile, has been the object of ridicule in his native France for launching a Berkovicesque campaign for the national team coaching job. Like the former Israeli star, Fernandez has used the platform afforded to him by his position as a television commentator to advance his candidacy.

As news of his candidacy for the Israel position became public in France, Fernandez used his blog and his radio show to deny any interest in the job. "I am not a candidate to coach the Israeli national team," Fernandez told Haaretz. "This is a dream or hallucination cooked up by some journalists. I haven't agreed to anything and I'm not scheduled to come to the country. This is all just speculation."