Football is famous for its cliches. "A real six-pointer", "the moment of truth" and "there's everything to play for" are regularly trotted out to describe upcoming matches, both in domestic leagues and currently when it comes to the qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup™.
These cliches could certainly apply to Israel as they prepare for their next two Group 2 matches, and they know that against Latvia (third on ten points) and Luxembourg four days later (fifth, four points), only wins will do. "We need to concentrate on our next three matches [the third being in October against Moldova (sixth, 1 point)]. We're at home and need to take all nine points. After that we're facing Switzerland (second, 13 points) away, which could be a crucial tie in the battle for second place." This apposite summary came from Elyaniv Barda in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com as he discussed the prospects of his team, currently lying in fourth place on nine points.
The striker seems to have written off any chance of finishing top of the group, which is perhaps unsurprising after Israel's performances against leaders Greece (also on 13 points), against whom they drew 1-1 and lost 2-1. "We have a strong team with good players," Barda said, "but the last two games [both against Greece] were below par. We still hope to finish second at the end of the day though."
Barda, who has featured in five of the last six qualifiers and whose goal levelled matters temporarily in Heraklion, left his home country in 2007, after playing for Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa, to try his luck in Belgium. The 28-year-old has since developed into a lynchpin for current cup-holders KRC Genk, and his move to the Jupiler League has paid dividends as far as his international career is concerned. Since joining the blue and whites, Barda has become a regular in the Israel starting XI and wears the coveted No10 jersey for both club and country.
"I've just recently signed a new contract, but you never know what might happen in football," the attacker said when asked about what the future holds. "I'm currently very happy in Genk." However happy he might be in Belgium, if a certain Italian club came calling then he would be sorely tempted, saying: "I'm a real Juve fan. Playing for them would be a dream come true." It is no surprise therefore to find out that Barda's favourite player is none other than Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero.
Before he can envisage a transfer to one of Europe's top leagues however, there is much work to be done in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, and goals in the coming matches would help him book his ticket for South Africa as well as giving his career a shot in the arm. "It would be a dream come true for me to play for Israel in South Africa," said Barda. "It's always a good feeling to represent your country. You just want to give your best, and you know that the whole country is behind you."
Indeed, the country has been behind them for the past 80 years, since Israel became a FIFA member in 1929, but other than one appearance at a FIFA World Cup (in 1970) and victory at the Asian Nations Cup (in 1964, after finishing runners-up in 1956 and 1960), they have had little success on the international stage. The team currently has Liverpool star Yossi Benayoun as its captain and has long been in the top 20 in Europe, while in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, they are usually to be found between 15th and 25th spot. "We've earned this position," said Barda. "We've won games, played well and worked our way up, but we need to build on these good performances and the best way of doing that is by finishing second."
To achieve this, they will have to face up to "the moment of truth" against Latvia and Luxembourg at the beginning September. And of course, there will be "everything to play for."
We've won games, played well and worked our way up, but we need to build on these good performances and the best way of doing that is by finishing second.