Get ready for a nail biter today as Russia meet Israel in Ramat Gan which can decide not oly Russia's fate but that of England too. Steve McLaren and the English squad will be following this match very closely.
Israeli captain Yossi Benayoun is going to miss this most crucial Group E encounter due to a adductor injury. On this match rests England's sputtering hopes to qualify for Euro 2008. Croatia has already qualified and Russia with its win against England is favoured to win the second spot. England have an outside chance if Russia loses today.
Benayoun's absence means that Israel is missing their talismanic playmaker. At Liverpool, Rafa quickly found out that Benayoun gives the immobile Liverpool midfield a spark of creativity as seen in the match against Wigan, Besiktas, and Fulham recently. In a team that has seen Torres injured and out for protracted spells it has been Benayoun that kept them scoring as exemplified in his splendid solo effort against Wigan.
Benayoun's cohesive play has kept the Israel team going forward even though his statistics might be less than impressive. Idan Tal has stepped up with his match play. Coach Dror Kashtan's team will be boosted by the return of Roberto Colautti back from injury. The Ligal Ha'al's top scorer two seasons ago has been in great nick having scored 6 goals in the last 7 Euro matches. But Kashtan's problems are not the midfield or the attack as he has Ben Sahar and Amit Ben Sushan who have all scored goals. The young striker duo along with Toto Tamuz are part of a strong Israeli nucleus. Kashtan has also called on the services of Bnai Sakhnin's midfielder, Maor Buzaglo. Israel has scored more goals than Russia, 17 to 16.
Israel's bane has been the mistake prone defence that cost them both the matches against Croatia and the embarrassing blow out against England. The defense has given up 11 goals which is more than twice as many as Russia. Shimon Gershon, the experienced central defender is out with an injury and so Kashtan will start Dekel Keinan with Tal Ben Haim in central defense.
Dudu Awat in goal had a phenomenal match against Russia in their previous encounter keeping Andrei Arshavin and Pavel Pogrebnyak at bay. But Sevilla's Aleksandr Kerzakhov has been having a very good run with five goals and Hiddink can also call on super sub Roman Pavlyuchenko who broke English hearts by scoring both goals that gave Russia a come from behind victory. With regular goalie Igor Akinfeev back to bolster the back four of Ignasevich, Anyukov, and the Berezutskiy twins, the Israeli attack will need to be at its most potent to score goals against a rock solid defense that has given up just five goals.