Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Kashtan's Statement

The 'Golden Generation' of Israeli football bought a lot of optimism to Israelis in the late 1980s and early 1990s. With names like Haim Revivo, Eyal Berkovic, Avi Nimni, Tal Banin and Itzik Zohar, Israel finally had the 'star power' they needed to compete on the international level. All these players performed well domestically, and were equal to the task abroad (Revivo was part of Spain's Team of the Season in in 98/99, Banin played in Serie A & Berkovic was a mainstay for West Ham, Celtic and Pompey), however, they failed to make an impression on the international level. From the games I watched, it seemed that it was the players' attitudes, and not their abilities, that hampered the team's progress. The players' attitude seemed to be that Israel was 'lucky' to have them playing for her, and not visa versa. Not surprisingly, with the exclusion of Avi Nimni from Dror Kashtan's first squad for the Euro 2008 qualifying, the 'Golden Generation' left Israelis wondering yet again 'what if?'

And so, this brings us to today's national team. This team seems different - not because of the undoubted talent, but because of their attitude on and off the pitch. Compromised of the youngsters who grew up idolizing the 'Golden Generation', these boys are well on the way to shining brighter, both abroad and internationally. With an influx of players from the talented U21 team, the ever improving national team could very well be the first Israeli team to compete in an major tournament in 38 years.

During last month's 1-1 tie with Russia, there was one surprising omission from the starting line up. Yaniv Katan, Maccabi Haifa's captain and a mainstay of the national team over the past few years, had pulled out due to an injury. Despite the 'injury', he managed to play against Hapoel Tel Aviv only a week later, showing no ill-effects whatsoever during his team's 2-0 loss. Dror Kashtan didn't make any statements regarding the incident until Sunday night when he announced the squad for the November clash with Croatia. Yaniv Katan had been dropped - and although he didn't refer to him directly, Kashtan still made it obvious why the striker would not be lining up next week against the Croats:

Players have to do everything to represent the country, the national team is above all. If we talk a little about Zionism, we live in a country that the representation and defense of her are a necessary value in all. The point is people are always being called up for the country. I have expectations of every player; when he is called up to the flag, he is required to appear. Players to have to be willing to sacrifice themselves for the team.

I like the statement Kashtan is making despite the fact Katan's average start to the season is reason enough for his exclusion from the squad. It should be the pinnacle of any Israeli player's career to be able to wear the blue and white uniform, to sing the national anthem and to play in front of 40,000 cheering Israelis. This loyalty and pride needs to be ingrained in every Israeli player (not to mention any regular citizen) - and if players don't feel that it's a necessity, then they can watch the game, like us fans do, from the comfort of their homes.

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