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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 March 2007, 08:22 GMT
Media adds to England woes

By John Sinnott

Alon Hazan
Hazan won over 70 caps for Israel
It says something about England's current mediocre form that the feeling in Israel is that Dror Kashtan's side could not be playing Steve McClaren's side at a better time.

Each side has already lost to Group E leaders Croatia, leaving them both on seven points, three behind Slaven Bilic's side.

But former Israeli international Alon Hazan believes the weight of media expectation on England could be a trump card for Israel.

England have picked up just one point from their last two qualifiers and McClaren's side have looked anything but impressive in friendlies against Holland and Spain, prompting tabloid frenzied outrage.

606: DEBATE

"England come with a lot of pressure," Hazan, who won over 70 caps for Israel between 1990 and 2000, told BBC Sport.

"If they lose it could be the end of the tournament for them. And knowing the media in England they will put the team under a lot of pressure.

"If you cannot free your body and your soul before you start to play then its hard to do the right things to win.

If they lose it could be the end of the tournament for them. And knowing the media in England they will put the team under a lot of pressure

Alon Hazan

"Israel must start strongly to get pressure at every part of the game. And if Israel do that they could get some advantage."

Hazan, who played for Watford in the late 1990s, has been busy since returning to his native country.

Coach of Israeli club side Ashdod, as well as their general manager, Hazan still finds time to fit in studying for a politics degree.

His belief Israel can spring a surprise on Saturday is not only based on patriotic pride.

Before losing to Croatia 4-3 in their last qualifier, Israel were undefeated in 13 competitive games, and this against sides of the quality of France, Russia, Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland.

Israel's Under-21 side have also qualified for the European Championship, the first time in 30 years the country has reached a major tournament.

Chelsea's Ben Sahar, who is just 17, played his first full international earlier this month, is the pick of that crop of young players with Jose Mourinho predicting the youngster will be ready for the first team next season.

"Over the last 12 years Israeli football has been very progressive," said Hazan.

Yossi Benayoun
Benayoun is key to Israel's hopes says Hazan

"In trying to qualify for the 2006 World Cup we didn't lose a game, but we didn't win one a match either.

"We got compliments, but what we now need is results.

Hazan's biggest concern is what effect the 4-2 home defeat to Croatia will have on Israel.

"In losing to Croatia we went back a couple of steps. It was the way we lost that upset people. But if we lose against England it's also the end of the tournament for us.

"It was too easy for Croatia and the game was not controlled by Israel.

"If England start strong and score a goal it will be very difficult for the confidence of the Israeli players and we might see a nervous team."

Before moving to Watford, Hazan played under current Israel coach Dror Kashtan at Hapoel Tel Aviv, and has only praise for his former manager.

"Kashtan is a very good coach - one of the best ever for Israel and he deserved to get this job many years ago.

"He has made changes and brought in a new generation of players. He knows what he wants and he has a good way of showing that to the players.

"He is clever and has a lot of patience. He can force his players to do what he wants to believe they can win. In the past that was just a dream for the players."

Hazan believes two Israeli players could cause England problems.

"Yossi Benayoun is key. He is young, but very experienced. He is a player capable of rising to the big occasion.

"And Toto Tamuz is very young, but very strong and very fast."



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Alan Hansen's column
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