Israel open their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying campaign at home to Switzerland on 6 September. The team coached by Dror Kashtan is making a tenth assault on a berth at the global showcase event since their solitary finals appearance at Mexico 1970.
International regulars Gal Alberman and Roberto Colautti sat down with FIFA.com for an exclusive double interview, discussing Borussia Monchengladbach, a Bundesliga club boasting a rich and trophy-laden history, and Israel’s targets in the forthcoming qualifying campaign.
Midfield ace Alberman switched to Gladbach from Beitar Jerusalem in the summer, arriving on the back of an Israeli domestic double and bearing the Player of the Year accolade from his own country. Unsurprisingly, he has immediately claimed a place in his new club’s starting line-up. National team-mate and good friend Colautti is now in his second season with the promoted Bundesliga outfit. The striker previously plied his trade in Argentina, Switzerland and Israel.
The Israelis, currently 20th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, face Switzerland, Greece, Moldova, Latvia and Luxembourg in European qualifying Group 2.
FIFA.com: Gal Alberman, welcome to Germany. How is the settling-in process going?
Gal Alberman: Very well, thank you. I’ve only been here a couple of months, but I’ve been very warmly welcomed. The team has made it easy for a newcomer to integrate, and obviously I have my fellow countryman Roberto Colautti to answer any questions.
That brings us straight to you, Roberto. It is fair to say you have really seen the world. You were born in Argentina, and you have played there, in Switzerland, in Israel, and you are now in your second season in Germany. Where have you felt most at home so far?
Roberto Colautti: That’s hard to say. I’m from Argentina, and that’s where my friends and family live. I love my country. My wife and daughter are Israeli, so Israel means a great deal to me for that reason alone. It’s where I spent the three best years of my life so far. But my family and I are very happy here in Germany too.
Gal, you obviously have Roberto alongside you at your new club. How do you get on with him? Did he influence your decision to come to the Bundesliga?
It was definitely good to know there’d be someone around who I knew and who’d understand me, especially if it turned out things didn’t go so well at the start. But I didn’t opt for the Bundesliga because of Roberto, I wanted to take the next step in my career. Borussia were very keen to have me, and my gut feeling told me it could be a good fit. Obviously, it was in the back of my mind that if I did complete the transfer I wouldn’t be alone at the start, I’d be playing alongside a colleague from the national team. Roberto is a good friend, and it goes without saying we’re room-mates for Borussia training camps.
You have been in Monchengladbach for a few weeks now. What has Roberto told you about the Bundesliga and life in Germany?
Roberto said I’d probably enjoy Germany. It’s a healthy mix of physical and skilful football, very similar to Israel. As to living here, Roberto chose Dusseldorf, a genuinely multicultural big city. That’s where I’ve taken an apartment too.
* You won the league and cup double with Beitar Jerusalem last season, and you were named Player of the Year at home. What are you aiming to achieve with Gladbach?*
I want to help the team succeed in securing our top flight status as quickly as possible. Obviously I want to pick up where I left off last season, and continue growing as a person and a sportsman. I’d rather not say much more than that. Actions speak louder than words.
Roberto, having two Israelis in the Bundesliga says a lot for the quality of Israeli football these days. How would you rate the standard in Israel?
Israeli football has caught up. We only just missed out on a place at EURO 2008. We were grouped with Croatia, Russia and England, but if we’d managed a single point more, we’d have gone to the tournament instead of Russia. I think we have a really good team at the moment.
Gal, Israel last qualified for a major tournament in 1970, when you went to the FIFA World Cup. What has stopped Israel making it to major finals since then? What are you lacking compared to other countries?
Well, as Roberto just said, it was pretty close for the EURO. I think we were in the hardest group too. Russia made it to the semi-finals, Croatia made the quarters, and England are one of the greatest footballing nations of them all. We gave a really good account of ourselves, so we'll pick ourselves up and have another shot at it in qualifying for the World Cup in South Africa.
Roberto, your Group 2 opponents on the road to South Africa in 2010 include Greece and Switzerland. Are they the two biggest obstacles to Israel’s first FIFA World Cup appearance in 40 years?
Yes, I think they’re the strongest teams in our group. But identifying one or two favourites who you feel you definitely have to beat gets you nowhere. The so-called easier matches against the likes of Moldova, Latvia and Luxembourg are the ones where you have to give it 100 per cent, because you have to avoid dropping unnecessary points.
Gal, what would qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup mean to Israel and Israeli football?
Obviously, it would be fantastic. We’re a small country, and we’d relish the chance to show what we can do an a global stage. I think qualifying for the World Cup would give Israeli football a massive boost, especially in terms of youth development.