Injury-hit Israel takes on Croatia
Israel goalkeeper Dudu Aoate accepts Croatia is better than his team ahead of their qualifier for the European Championship, and said the hosts face a difficult task with captain Yossi Benayoun and midfielder Baram Kayal out injured.
Benayoun is out for three months after tearing his Achilles’ tendon and Kayal has a groin injury.
Both will miss Saturday’s match in Ramat Gan between the top two teams in Group F. Israel and Croatia have four points, one more than Latvia and two in front of Georgia and Greece. Malta has zero points.
"Croatia is a strong team, better than Israel. But here at home we can make a game of it, especially if the stadium is full," Aoate said. "It won’t be easy, but we are coming with the belief that we can beat them.
"This is one of the most important games for us, the most important so far in this campaign."
Israel coach Luis Fernandez, a Frenchman who took over in May, believes home advantage could be crucial.
"Croatia has a lot of experience and quality, with players who play at top clubs. They have a lot talent," he said. "But it is possible to find solutions tactically and make it difficult for them, especially at home.
"We will work very hard in the game. We need to prepare and play a great game."
Hapoel Tel Aviv playmaker Gili Vermouth, last season’s player of the year in the Israeli league, is expected to take Benayoun’s place in central midfield.
"I don’t feel like I have to step into the shoes of Benayoun," Vermouth said. "We have a full team and everyone has to play very well in order to beat Croatia. Yossi is a big loss, both on and off the field. But this is the situation we have to deal with."