'I want Russia to qualify,' says Israel coach

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The Independent Online

England's slim hopes of qualifying for Euro 2008 were dealt another blow yesterday when Israel's goalkeeping coach said he wanted Russia to make it to the tournament ahead of Steve McClaren's side. The former USSR international Alexander Ubarov will be among the Israel coaches when they play Russia in Tel Aviv on Saturday.

Ubarov, a naturalised Israeli, said he had no intention of encouraging his players to throw the game, but that he would rather Russia got through. He said: "I want Russia to go to the Euros but not in a corrupt way."

Ubarov works under the Israel head coach, Dror Kashtan, whose first-choice goalkeeper is Dudu Aouate. The Deportivo La Coruña player will be a major figure in a match which Guus Hiddink's side must win in order to keep their destiny in their own hands. Should Russia do so they will only have to beat Andorra to edge out England, regardless of the latter's result against Croatia at Wembley a week today.

Speaking to the Israeli sport website one.co.il, Ubarov said. "In this game we [Israel] have nothing to lose. The young players in the team want to prove themselves so they can establish themselves in the team. I want Russia to go to the Euros. They have no choice but to win here.

"I told [Israel] it's not going to be an easy game. They will have to prepare 100 per cent. I am not going to hear anything about throwing the game. I have been in this country 16 years and I have never heard of anything like that with the national team. I want Russia to go to the Euros but not in a corrupt way."

There is expected to be a large contingent of Russian expats in the Ramat Gan Stadium for a game of only marginal interest among locals now Israel have no chance of qualifying. Without their injured captain, Yossi Benayoun, there is hope in Israel that Kashtan will give a debut to the next bright young prospect of Israeli football, Maor Buzaglo, a 19-year-old striker who is on loan from Maccabi Haifa to Bnei Sakhnin. A former Lyons and Juventus academy player, he would at least have his reputation to play for.

The Israel midfielder Gal Alberman said his team were aware of the pressure. "We know that England really want us to win but, above all, we are playing for our own honour," he said. "First of all we want to help ourselves and if we help England we don't really care about that. The England team are not only dependent on us, they have a lot of work to do against Croatia."

In terms of McClaren's England future, there is no Football Association main board meeting scheduled for 22 November, the day after England play Croatia. The next meeting of the men who will decide McClaren's fate is 29 November, although it is possible the 12-man board could reschedule if they thought it necessary. There is no danger of McClaren being sacked before the Croatia game, should Russia beat Israel on Saturday.

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