Almog Cohen’s impressive levels of fitness, sheer determination and passion make him an awkward opponent for anyone. True to his fighting spirit, the diminutive midfielder is far from happy to settle for the status quo, neither in the Bundesliga with Nuremberg, nor with the Israeli national side.
The 24-year-old is the type of player every team would like to have. His running, battling and tacking in defensive midfield are reminiscent of former Italian international Gennaro Gattuso, a comparison further highlighted by the duo’s striking physical resemblance. And the Be'er Scheva native, who was coached by German legend Lothar Matthaus at Maccabi Netanya, is eager to follow further in Gattuso’s footsteps on the international stage, namely at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
“I have the feeling we can achieve great things,” a confident Cohen said in an exclusive FIFA.com interview. “There’s a lot of quality in our national team, but we need to learn to play better collectively. Several players are at European clubs and we need to make better use of their experience when we play for Israel. At the moment, we haven’t managed to do that very well.”
Of course we dream of reaching Brazil, but we’re also aware it is a very long and rocky road to get there.
Cohen himself is one of the European contingent, with 48 appearances for Nuremberg since joining in summer 2010 and 12 caps for Israel to date. He has set himself the target of regaining a place in the starting line-up for his club, as well as becoming a key figure for his country. That seems well within the grasp of a man once described by Matthäus as “a very talented, ambitious youngster who wants to improve every day.”
Given their stuttering start to 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification, Israel will need to adopt a step-by-step mentality. A 1-1 draw in Azerbaijan was followed by a 4-0 defeat at home to Russia, leaving Cohen and Co bottom of Group F in European qualifying. However, there is cause for hope in the fact that the teams from third to sixth place all have just a single point. Russia and Portugal were the only two sides to pick up the maximum haul from the opening two fixtures.
“We have a difficult group, that goes without saying,” said Cohen. “Portugal and Russia are the favourites, while we’re outsiders. Of course we dream of reaching Brazil, but we’re also aware it is a very long and rocky road to get there.” Nevertheless, the midfielder is confident he knows what is required to realise that dream: “We need to be determined, aggressive and fight right until the end.” Israel certainly appear to have found the right man for the job.