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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 November 2007, 15:51 GMT
Giving England cause for hope

By John Sinnott

Ronnie Rosenthal won 60 caps for Israel
Rosenthal won 60 caps for Israel
On the face of it, it seems that England fans have little cause for optimism as far as their Euro 2008 qualification hopes go.

Their fate now out of their hands, they need Israel and Macedonia to do them a massive favour this weekend by taking points off either Russia or Croatia.

Even then, Steve McClaren's side would probably need to beat Croatia at Wembley next Wednesday to reach next year's finals, which are being held jointly by Austria and Switzerland.

A lot of ifs, buts and maybes then, but for those supporters looking for some crumb of comfort, Ronnie Rosenthal and Macedonian international Artim Sakiri are ready to provide it.

Former Liverpool and Tottenham striker Rosenthal insists Israel are very capable of securing at least a draw against the Russians when they meet in Tel Aviv on Saturday.

"If you look at the statistics, Israel have not lost many games at home," the ex-Israeli international, capped 60 times by his country, told BBC Sport.

I expect Israel to give everything, though that doesn't guarantee anything

Ronnie Rosenthal

"I know all the Israeli players are very, very motivated for the game."

Fourth in Group E and nine points behind leaders Croatia, Israel have no hope of qualifying for the finals and theoretically nothing to play for.

But Rosenthal insists the Israeli players will take the game very seriously.

"For the players, it's an opportunity to show themselves to a wider audience," he said.

"Many of them want to play in the Premier League and they know the game will be broadcast live in England.

"It's a question of national pride. Talking to people, I expect Israel to give everything, though that doesn't guarantee anything.

"Israel have only lost one game at home - to Croatia - during qualification and the coach and the players won't want to lose two games at home."


Rosenthal knows from first-hand experience that Israel are capable of upsetting the odds.

He helped them record one of their most famous victories, a 3-2 away win over France in a crucial World Cup qualifier in 1993.

With a side containing Eric Cantona and David Ginola, the French needed just a point from the game at the Parc des Princes in Paris to qualify for the finals in the United States.

But Israel, who had been beaten 4-0 at home by France in Tel Aviv in an earlier qualifying group game, scored twice in the last 10 minutes, with the winning goal coming from virtually the last kick of the game.

Rosenthal played a key role in setting up all three of Israel's goals.

Artim Sakiri says Macedonia are capable of pulling off a surprise
Artim Sakiri says Macedonia are capable of pulling off a surprise

"That was a great opportunity for all the players to show themselves and it was away from home as well," he said.

"As long as it's a proper competitive game and not a friendly, any player will want give to everything with his heart to win the game."

But Rosenthal acknowledges Israel have weaknesses that Russia will look to exploit.

"Israel has enough technically good players, but our weakness is pace, and we lack that in all departments," he said.

"Israel also does not have one main goalscorer and we've been lacking a striker for the last five years."

So if Israel cannot do England a favour, what about Macedonia?

Well, Artim Sakiri believes they can help smooth England's passage, too, by beating Croatia in Skopje.

"This is a big game for the English people and also for us," said the former West Brom midfielder.

"If we beat Croatia, England are close to qualifying. We've nothing to lose, so that could be dangerous for Croatia."

We are playing for our country, we are the home side and we will have a lot of support

Artim Sakiri

Macedonia have never beaten Croatia in a competitive game, but Sakiri insists his side are capable of unsettling Slaven Bilic's team.

"We were doing well in Zagreb when we played Croatia," he said. "We were leading 1-0 and they scored two quick goals in the second half.

"They were really scared at one point in because they needed to get at least a point.

"In 1998, we played them in a qualifier when Croatia were ranked third in the world and we led twice before losing 3-2.

"You cannot say 100% that we will beat Croatia because football doesn't work like that, but we will never give up.

"We are playing for our country, we are the home side and we will have a lot of support."

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