What: 2013 European Under-21 Championship
Who: Israel U21 vs Norway U21
When: Wednesday 5th June, 2013, at 17:00 UK Time
Where: Netanya Stadium, Netanya, Israel
Rising To The Occasion
For Israel, this European Under-21 Championship is a historic occasion, the first time they have hosted a tournament of such magnitude. Two new stadiums have been built, in Netanya, which hosts the opening game, and Petah Tikva, while grounds in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem have been renovated. However, the pristine stadiums and facilities will matter little to Israelis if their side cannot perform on the pitch.
That job is down to coach Guy Luzon, who will take over at Belgian giants Standard Liege after the tournament. And the Israel tactician has attempted to take some of the pressure off his side's shoulders by dubbing Norway clear favourites in this first clash.
"Norway have beaten France in the playoffs and that tells you everything you need to know about the level of their team", Luzon explained. "They are favourites for the match but it will not change our attacking style which we showed in the pre-tournament matches."
Israel lost friendlies against Holland and Germany in March, while they beat Slovakia. The defeats were by a one-goal margin, giving Luzon some cause for optimism. The real work though starts now.
Tor Ole Skullerud's side, along with Israel, are expected to struggle to qualify for the next phase, given the presence of England and Italy in their group. That means that Norway must look to beat Israel to take the pressure off ahead of clashes against Stuart Pearce's England and Devis Mangia's Italy.
Skullerud can call upon several experienced faces, including Borussia Monchengladbach star Havard Nordtveit, AZ Alkmaar's Markus Henriksen and Red Bull Salzburg's Havard Nielsen. But Norway will have to shrug off several poor results leading into the tournament, with a 5-2 defeat to Spain, 2-0 loss to Denmark and 4-1 drubbing by Holland all suffered in friendlies in March. However, putting France out at the playoff stage to reach Israel gives Norway and Skullerud confidence.
"I am positive regarding my team as we showed against France that we can beat teams at this level", he said, while banking on experience. "Many of our players have played big games before for their clubs or with the national team. I hope we have the experience we need to cope."
Israel 1-2 Holland (21/03; Friendly)
Israel 1-2 Germany (24/03; Friendly)
Israel 1-0 Slovakia (29/03; Friendly)
Spain 5-2 Norway (21/03; Friendly)
Denmark 2-0 Norway (25/03; Friendly)
Holland 4-1 Norway (25/03; Friendly)
Norway: Valon Berisha; Joshua King; Harvard Nordtveit; Markus Henriksen (all with senior Norway squad)
Players to watch
Israel – Nir Biton: An all-action midfielder, Biton will be crucial in helping to protect Israel's defence and then driving the hosts forward. The 21-year-old is also capable of hitting rasping long-range strikes.
Norway – Havard Nielsen: The young striker netted against France in the playoff stage and will be hoping to get amongst the goals in the finals in Israel. At Salzburg in Austria, Nielsen has good experience he will hope to use to his advantage.
Israel may feel they come into this match as underdogs, but in truth the home advantage combined with Norway missing several players to the country's senior squad (they will join up again after the 2014 World Cup qualifier against Albania) puts the ball squarely in their court. Expect Israel to edge this. Israel 1-0 Norway.
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