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Mood in Haifa hopeful of an Israeli victory AGAINSTWALES; With just a few days to go before one of Wales' biggest games in recent history - a match in Haifa that can help Chris Coleman's side take a giant step towards Euro 2016 - WalesOnline gets the inside track on the opposition from Israeli football writer INBAL MANOR.


WHAT IS THE FEELING IN ISRAEL AHEAD OF THE GAME THIS WEEK? The feeling is it's now or never, an opportunity of a lifetime to make history.

Media headlines have talked about the "moment of truth", "road to France", and "Israel versus Bale"... although this rhymes better in Hebrew!

Up until now, everybody has dealt with the squad and especially the dispute between the gaffer and striker Eliran Atar, so it 's kind of taken the spotlight away from the real questions.

The truth is the manager, Eli Gutman, isn't the most popular figure in Israeli football plus the media and Israelis in general like to deal with the squad and ask a lot of questions about decisions. Why is this guy in and that guy out etc...

Atar came back from France and he is on fire with Maccabi Haifa but he has history with the coach, who felt he was not serious enough and decided to exclude him. So Atar attacked the coach, the FA hit back and everybody here is talking about a player who would never play even if he was included.

Personally, I think this dispute can damage the preparations, but I have to say Gutman had some problems with players before the Bosnia game and it turned out fine after all.

WHAT HAS BEEN MADE OF THE RECENT FORM OF GARETH BALE AT REAL MADRID AND THE COMMENTS FROM GUTMAN ABOUT HIM SAVING HIMSELF FOR WALES? Gutman's commitment comments became a total joke. Maybe he had a bad choice of words or maybe he tried to become viral. Nevertheless, no-one believes Bale is really saving himself in Madrid.

Social media was full of ludicrous comments about the statement from fans to journalists and some ex-footballers. And When Bale scored twice against Levante, we said he "answered" Gutman.

The thing is Real are very popular here and everything that happens there makes headlines, including Bale's recent form and the incident with the fans.

But Bale is well respected so in a way, like Gutman, people believe his falling out of form in Madrid has no connections to Saturday's game.

DO ISRAEL THINK THEY NEED TO WIN THIS MATCH IF THEY ARE TO QUALIFY? Expectations are to get four points out of six from these games with Wales and Belgium a few days later, but the general feeling is that if we beat Wales and lost to Belgium it would be forgiven. If we don't win against Wales, I suspect there will be major criticism.

Israel considers itself favourites against Wales but there is no disrespect at all. With Bale and 11 Premier League players, including Ramsey and Allen, no one here feels superior.

We don't look at Wales as your usual side seeded fourth in a group but, yes, the expectations are to get a victory at home.

THERE HAS BEEN SOME COVERAGE OF A FALL.OUT BETWEEN ATAR AND GUTMAN? WHAT HAPPENED AND HOW WILL IT AFFECT THE SQUAD? It's happened before. Israelis like to ask questions and doubt the coach - any coach - and his decisions; there is a saying Israel has seven million coaches.

Atar is good and in good shape but he only has three caps. There was public pressure to call him up and Gutman called him up for last week's training.

They talked and Atar said: "You didn't look at me when I was top goalscorer of the league (two years ago) and only called me up because Gili Vermouth is injured".

Gutman decided not to call him up for the games but only published the squad after Atar scored again on Sunday.

They accused each other of leaking the details of their conversation. Atar felt Gutman said he was not a professional and said the coach doesn't like dominant players. The FA's response said Atar hadn't trained properly and claimed he was not national team material and causing damage.

You know, not everyday you get to see a player who publicly attacks a coach and a coach publicly answers after an hour. It became ugly and unnecessary.

But I can you tell you one thing: there will be minimum changes in the starting XI like there were in the squad because that's what Gutman is like.

He believes in what and whom brought him the success in previous games so Atar wasn't expected to play anyway.

There are some good guys in attack and he won't be missed. But if Israel lose, I can assure you Atar will be discussed here again.

WHAT PLAYERS WILL WALES HAVE TO BE WARY OF? Our top man in top form is Lior Refaelov. He scored the winning goal in the Belgian cup final and has 14 goals and 17 assists in all competitions this year. I call him the Israeli Kevin De Bruyne.

Our attack is dangerous. Eran Zahavi can change the game in a split second and Omer Damari has a fantastic record for the national team, even though he hasn't scored a league goal since November.

Also check out Bibras Natkho, who is maybe the most successful Israeli in Europe and the heart of our midfield.

THERE WAS SOME CRITICISM OF THE PITCH AT HAIFA - IS IT BETTER NOW AND WHAT KIND OF ATMOSPHERE AND CONDITIONS CAN WALES EXPECT? You should expect 19-20C, 50-60 per cent humidity and no rain; typical Israel spring.

The pitch is fine, it is a brand new stadium and actually the only one who complained about the surface was Chris Coleman after his visit a few months back.

With more than 30,000 in the stands dressed in white and blue the atmosphere should be great.

Israelis are not fanatical like the British fans and the acoustics are not perfect there, but it will be a great game to watch and a great occasion.

Inbal Manor is chief football writer and deputy editor of


Israel striker Lior Refaelov, who plays his football in Belgium for Club Brugge
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Mar 26, 2015
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