Bloomfield Stadium should be packed to its 16,000 capacity on Wednesday as Israel host the deciding leg of their play-off against Italy for a place at the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship.
With ticket prices reduced, Motti Iwanir's team will get all the support they require as they attempt to replicate the achievement of Guy Levy's side in getting to the U21 finals in 2007. Then, a 1-1 draw in France preceded Israel's 1-0 second-leg victory in the qualifying play-off – when a stalemate would have sufficed. This time around, Israel cannot rely on away goals after Saturday's 0-0 first-leg scoreline in Ancona, so have to win on the night, be it within 90 minutes, after extra time, or on penalties.
'Israel must win'
"We must step up a gear in attack and take the initiative," said the coach. Four players from Iwanir's U21 pool remain on FIFA World Cup duty with the senior squad, while midfielders Avihay Yadin and Tamir Cahalon are still injured. However, Beitar Jerusalem FC forward Toto Tamuz has recovered from the knock which kept him out at the weekend. "We must display the same determination we showed in Ancona," Iwanir added. "However, we must also win because a score draw would knock us out. The Italians have some weaknesses and we intend to exploit them."
Israel captain Lior Jan, who played their three matches at the 2007 tournament in the Netherlands, wants to experience the big stage again. "We will need to be at our best to get that ticket for the finals," he said. "Italy have an exceptionally strong squad, but we achieved our goal in Italy and brought the decider back home." The Azzurrini are not, however, at full strength. With Sebastian Giovinco, Claudio Marchisio and Daniele Dessena suspended, and Marco Andreolli injured, they have had to call up striker Davide Di Gennaro, midfielder Davide Bottone, and defenders Matteo Rubin and Daniele Capelli.
Italy coach Pierluigi Casiraghi said: "We knew Israel would be tough opponents because they caused problems for Germany in the group and they never give up. I am sure this game won't be much different from the first leg – they won't attack too much – but now my players have to show the right spirit if they want to go to Sweden next summer." The visitors are boosted, though, by the recovery from their respective flu and ankle ailments of FC Internazionale Milano striking prodigy Mario Balotelli and Juventus left-back Paolo De Ceglie. "We just need to play our game," added defender Domenico Criscito.
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