Israel coach Andi Herzog reflects on bright EURO qualifying start
Austrian legend earned 4-2 victory over his home nation
His new side were the biggest climbers in latest FIFA Ranking
While Israel may be the first time Andi Herzog – the only man to represent Austria more than 100 times – has been a permanent head coach of a senior side, he’s far from a rookie.
“There were suggestions that I wasn’t experienced enough,” he admitted to FIFA.com, having taken up the role eight month ago. “But in the last ten years I’ve been assistant or head coach for Austria’s U-21s and at EURO 2008 and World Cup 2014 as an assistant, so if you don’t get a lot of experience out of that you’re an idiot!”
A hero in the red of his country, pulling the strings at two FIFA World Cups™ and later wearing the captain’s armband and becoming their record cap-holder, there was a time when he thought this first time would have come with Austria.
“Four times I was close to being the head coach but they always signed another guy and I said, ‘It’s time to do something different’. I got an offer from Jurgen Klinsmann and was at US Soccer for five years. It was great for me.”
Having soaked up knowledge at Brazil 2014 and beyond, the 50-year-old has thrown himself into this new role with bags of enthusiasm. And one big World Cup lesson has already come in very handy, having locked horns with Austria in just his second UEFA EURO 2020 qualifier.
“We had the same when Jurgen Klinsmann, at the World Cup in 2014, went up against Germany with the US team,” the former Bayern Munich midfielder said of his ex-team-mate. “He handled it the perfectly and I learned from him and did it the same way.”
Only Herzog went one better. While USA fell to a solitary Thomas Muller goal as Germany cantered towards global glory, Israel got their qualifying campaign up and running with a bang thanks to a 4-2 triumph. They had to show some character, too.
“The start was bad: first shot, first goal. We got back into the game with the equaliser but there were four or five minutes when Austria could have scored the second goal easily.
“In the second half my team came into a flow and when we have a good day, going forward we can create a lot of chances. As a former playmaker it’s always fun to watch, as my coaching philosophy is always more attack-minded.”
After an opening draw with Slovenia, the win saw them as the best movers in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, climbing eight places to 84th. Having taken charge of an Israel team that had won just once since 2016 – against Liechtenstein – Herzog has plenty to do to “get them back on track”. However, he has had some history to overcome first.
A last-gasp free-kick by captain Herzog broke Israeli hearts as Austria pipped them to reach the Korea/Japan 2002 qualifying play-offs. With his adopted country having not reached an international tournament since Mexico 1970, it’s a memory that still stings.
“At the beginning this was the biggest headline,” he admitted. “It didn’t help me a lot! But I said in my first press conference: ‘I did my best for my country as captain of my team and now as head coach of Israel I’ll do the best I can to have success here.'
“We lost our first two games, so the critics came afterwards, but I didn’t care as it was just important to analyse the first games and keep going.”
Since then, however, they’ve earned 13 points from a possible 15 at home, come within a goal of topping their UEFA Nations League group and optimism abounds as they get their teeth into arguably the most open of all the EURO 2020 qualifying groups.
“Poland right now are the big favourites but I think in this group everyone can beat everyone,” Herzog said, though he’s keen to temper expectations. “I’m not dreaming of qualification. The next two games, against Latvia and Poland, are the most important.
“The people here, because of the euphoria, can dream. Right now we are in a good way, and I want to keep that, but you have to be realistic. There’s a lot of hope and a lot of joy right now and for the country and reputation of Israeli football [qualification] would be really, really great.”