Less than four months after hosting the UEFA European Under-21 Championship, Israel are adjusting to life after Guy Luzon.
Luzon left his post to take over at R. Standard de Liège after Israel's elimination from the group stage of this summer's final tournament. He did so on a high, however, signing off with a 1-0 win against England. "I'm leaving a very good foundation for years to come," he told his farewell press conference. "I believe we have a very good future."
Luzon's assertion looked an accurate one when Israel, now under the tutelage of German Michael Nees, opened their 2015 qualifying campaign with a 7-2 Group 8 win against Azerbaijan. Now come further tests, with trips to Portugal on Thursday and Norway on Tuesday. "Everyone expects us to score lots of goals after our first game but we only think about results," said the 46-year-old Nees, former coach of the Seychelles national team. "Portugal will be our first away match and, I believe, a very important way to measure our team."
There has been evolution rather than revolution under Nees, with eight of the squad that took part in the home finals still involved. However, their captain, midfielder Nir Biton, has since joined Celtic FC and become a regular member of the senior squad. For his part, Luzon has only enhanced his reputation by guiding Standard to the Belgian First League summit with a 100% record from their first nine fixtures.
One man omitted under Luzon, midfielder Dor Mikha, is now a key figure for Nees. "We have a good feeling and we are playing with Nees almost the same as we did under Luzon," said Mikha, the Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC match winner against FC Girondins de Bordeaux on UEFA Europa League matchday two. "We are getting more and more used to the small changes with every training session."
Another new face in the camp is Nir Davidovich, the former Israel goalkeeper who is currently coaching with the U21s. He said: "I was happy and thrilled to join the U21s and hope to be part of a goalkeeper academy in the near future. We are all ready for the challenge."
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