Israel’s dream of reaching its first major soccer tournament since the 1970 World Cup is still alive. Its latest goal: to qualify for the 2012 European Championship – Europe’s mini-version of the World Cup. The Israeli qualifying campaign resumes this Saturday at Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium, where the blue-and-white will face Latvia. Israel needs to finish 1st or 2nd in the qualifying table of six nations (Group F) to be able to progress to the Euro 2012 tournament. But that mission got off to a rocky start last year when Israel played four matches, losing two of them (at home to Croatia and away in Greece), while beating Malta at home and tying Georgia away. That leaves Israel currently fourth place in group, tied at 4 points with Latvia.
All is not lost, however – a home victory over Latvia on Saturday, followed by another win at home versus Georgia on Tuesday March 29th, would get Israel six points and put it back in the running for a top-two finish in the group. Two wins obviously are not guaranteed, although Latvia and Georgia are among the weaker teams in the table. Israel’s two defeats to Croatia and Greece last year were a blow, but the blue-and-white were missing their strongest midfielder and team captain Yossi Benayoun for both of those matches due to injury. Now, Benayoun, who plays for English club Chelsea, is back in training and is included in the Israeli team for the upcoming qualifiers. He hasn’t played since September, and is not certain to take the field against either Latvia or Georgia, but the prospect of seeing him in action again will give great hope to the team and the nation.
Israel v Latvia kicks off at 1:05pm EDT Saturday, and you can follow the action on the Internet in one of two ways.
If you understand Hebrew, you can listen to Israel’s Reshet Bet radio station, which usually covers Israeli soccer qualifiers live. Go to the Reshet Bet website http://www.iba.org.il/bet/ and click on the red speaker icon at the top of the page that says “Live” when you point at it. That will open a separate window for the radio player. If you’re using Safari and the live stream doesn’t start, you may have to switch to Internet Explorer (at least I had to!).
It doesn’t appear that any TV stations available in the United States are covering the match, although usually one can find a live video stream on the Web if you look hard enough. Omnisport.tv is one service that says it will offer live coverage of the match for $5.99. There may be others.
Either way, let’s keep hope alive for the “Nivcheret” (the Israeli team’s nickname) and remember the chant: El, El, Yisrael!