Israel will take on the top sides in the European female game for the first time after winning their UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ preliminary round group, much to the delight of goalscoring hero Sarit Shenar and coach Alon Shraier.
After defeating Latvia 3-0 and Armenia with a Shenar goal, Israel needed only a point against Group 2 hosts Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo to progress to the main 13 December qualifying draw. Silvia-Sima Gian opened the scoring on two minutes and then four goals from Shinar proved the bedrock of a 5-2 success which ensured Israel will compete for a place in Finland with the likes of Germany, Sweden and Norway.
Shenar, who plays for United States college side West Texas A&M - where she is in contention for the All-American team after winning regional honours - told uefa.com: "Today I am proud to be a member of the Israel women's national team. We have a group of winners, and even though my four goals will place me in the limelight, every member of this squad including the technical staff deserve all the credit in the world."
Schraier, who has been involved in the Israel women's set-up since they first entered senior competition in 1997, said: "We won this match on merit as we played to win even though a draw would have been enough to see us through. My players gave 100 per cent and their commitment was evident by looking at their white kit, which turned completely brown and black due to the muddy turf. To qualify for the first time to join Europe's top 30 is a great achievement."
Of course, the qualifiers over the next two years will be a step up from what they experienced this week, but Shraier is determined to make the most of the chance. "Whatever we do at this level is a bonus especially as we are going to line up against teams which so far we have only been able to watch on TV," he said. "This will help us climb in the world ranking to around 50th spot."
There will be some tough lessons, however. "Women's football in Europe is of a high standard - of the 20 top teams in the world, 13 are from Europe," the coach added. "I have no doubt that we will have to pay our 'learning fees' but I have no doubt that it's the price to pay for playing against the best and eventually improving."
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