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Match Previews

2014 World Cup Qualifying: Israel vs Portugal Match Preview

What: 2014 World Cup Qualifying – Group F
Who: Israel vs Portugal
When: Friday 22nd March, 2013, at 12:45 UK Time
Where: Ramat Gan Stadium, Ramat Gan, Israel

All Or Nothing For Israeli World Cup Hopes

Israel made a disappointing start to 2014 World Cup qualifying, being held to a draw by Azerbaijan in Baku and crushed at home by Fabio Capello’s Russia, but they have responded with resounding back-to-back wins against group minnows Luxembourg to thrust themselves back into the picture for qualification. They have also been boosted by the struggles of opponents Portugal, which gives the Israelis a fighting chance of a second place finish in this group.

It is therefore difficult to understate just how important this game is. Portugal are obvious favourites for this match and for second place, and so if Israel are to have a realistic chance of pipping them to that spot, this is a must-win game. Eli Guttman‘s side have performed impressively against some of the continent’s biggest names in the past, regularly holding the likes of France and England to draws, but converting one point into three is the difficulty facing Israel and what has stood between them and qualification for a major championship in recent times.

Israel have not qualified for a World Cup since 1970 and Guttman is still trying to find a winning formula after taking over from Luis Fernandez in 2011. Guttman has spent much time pondering whether or not to persist with the ageing but influential Yossi Benayoun, intelligent and technically gifted, with a knack for scoring crucial goals. But does his presence mean Israeli football’s up and coming stars, such as Maor Melikson and Bibras Natkho, cannot showcase their vast potential? Benayoun’s comments this week indicate he could be among the substitutes, but whatever his role, his presence in the national team set up can surely only help Israel in their quest to oust their more celebrated rivals.

Paulo Bento’s Side Look To End Winless Streak

Cristiano Ronaldo and co. touch down in Tel-Aviv to prepare for this crucial game in nearby Ramat Gan. What will baffle coach Paulo Bento as he ponders his tactics for the encounter will be why, with these two teams level on points, it is Portugal who are behind on goal difference? Whilst Israel knocked six past Luxembourg, Portugal managed only two, and most damagingly were held at home by Northern Ireland last year.

On paper this should be no match. Ronaldo is joined by the likes of Joao Moutinho, Silvestre Varela and Danny in a hugely talented squad. Winger Vieirinha has been called up by Bento for the first time, taking the place of Manchester United’s Nani, out with a hamstring injury. Portugal excelled at Euro 2012 with a formula which seemed to get the best out of Ronaldo, but their struggles since have highlighted the same old problems for the Portuguese – the lack of goals within their ranks.

Portugal tend to make hard work of qualifying campaigns but they will be desperate to reach the 2014 World Cup in their former colony of Brazil. But if their current form continues – it is four matches without a win now for Bento’s men – they will need to end that run quickly if they hope to reach Brazil. Moutinho is an injury worry for Portugal, but trained with the squad before travelling to Israel and should be fit. Bento will need all his best troops available for this one.


Recent form

Israel 3-0 Luxembourg (16/10; World Cup qualifying)
Israel 1-2 Belarus (14/11; Friendly)
Israel 2-1 Finland (06/02; Friendly)

Portugal 1-1 Northern Ireland (16/10; World Cup qualifying)
Gabon 2-2 Portugal (14/11; Friendly)
Portugal 2-3 Ecuador (06/02; Friendly)

Key absences

Israel: Yoav Ziv; Dan Mori

Portugal: Joao Moutinho (doubt); Nani

Players to watch

Israel – Tomer Hemed: Real Mallorca forward Hemed is a vital figure in this Israel squad and he will be full of confidence when he takes to the pitch. He has netted five goals in Israel’s last two qualifiers, albeit both against the minnows of Luxembourg. Technical, intelligent and immensely hard working, Hemed also boasts physicality, which gives him something extra that can worry this Portuguese defence. Used to taking on La Liga’s finest on a regular basis, he is the player most likely to make something happen for Israel.

Portugal – Joao Moutinho: The FC Porto man’s all-round energy and passing game could overwhelm the home side if he is on form. He is at the tip of a three in the central midfield areas and is free to roam and cause havoc with his enterprising attacking play. Tactically very clever and very hard working, he can expose the gaps in the Israel rearguard and create the space to allow Ronaldo to display his best. Moutinho is the type of player who can control a game and dictate its tempo – and that could be too much for Guttman’s side to handle.

Match Prediction

Portugal’s last four games have seen them lose to Ecuador and Russia, and draw with Gabon and Northern Ireland. It is the sort of form to encourage Israel, but then again those results mean this game takes on an extra importance and there is a sense that Bento’s side have the big name players who will show up when it really matters.

Guttman is likely to stick with the 4-4-2 system he has utilised in recent matches, with Toulouse forward Eden Ben Basat partnering Hemed up front, ahead of the talented midfielder Melikson, who also plies his trade in France with Valenciennes. Rubin Kazan’s Natkho will partner Melikson in central midfield and provide defensive cover.  Portugal’s likely 4-3-3 system could be well suited to countering the 4-4-2, which often comes out second best in such tactical battles due to the lack of numbers in midfield.

Israel are a technical and intelligent team but lack physicality and pace. That could be exposed against a side who can boast the talents of Moutinho and Raul Meireles in midfield, and of course Ronaldo up front. This is a game which will be determined by the set-up and mentality of the Portuguese starting eleven. If they are on their game, they should win, but any complacency and Israel could take advantage. A draw would be the best the hosts can realistically hope for, and probably not even that. Israel 1-3 Portugal.

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Published: Thursday, 21st Mar 2013