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Israel Are There For The Taking

With Brian Kerr able to call on an almost fully fit squad, Tony Cascarino is looking forward to three more World Cup qualifying points in Tel Aviv.

Tony Cascarino, 24 Mar 2005



I have to say I breathed a sigh of relief on Monday when the bulletins from the various clubs came through, and Alan Quinn was the only Ireland player injured and unable to travel to Israel.

With a first-choice starting XI, I don’t see any reason why Ireland shouldn’t win in Israel and keep ourselves on course for automatic World Cup qualification.

Brian Kerr has said that he’s toying with the idea of starting with Stephen Elliot up front, but despite his 18 goals for Sunderland this season, I’m not sure if he’ll risk blooding him in such an important game. Clinton Morrison looking bright on Sunday for Birmingham against Villa means that he’ll likely as not get the nod, with Elliot on the subs bench if Brian needs to switch things around. That said, I’d only just started at Gillingham in ’85 when I was thrown in at the deep end against Switzerland and ended up the man of the match!

There’s no argument that Stephen Elliot’s got an eye for goal and, playing as he does for Mick McCarthy, you can be sure that he’s both mentally and physically tough.

We sometimes underestimate the ability of Championship players – for every Bobby Zamora who fails to make the grade in the Premiership, there’s a Tim Cahill or an Andy Johnson who look like they’ve been in it their whole career.

After a bit of an iffy start, the indicators are that Andy Reid will end up doing the business for Spurs. I know this is Mr. Pot calling the kettle black, but at the moment it looks as if he’s carrying a bit too much timber. A bit of work during the summer with the fitness coaches though, and next season he’ll be a big player for them. As for Saturday, Brian Kerr will look at the understanding he’s developed at White Heart Lane with Robbie Keane and say, “Yup, Andy Reid’s starting for me.” Apart from him and the Morrison v Elliot debate, recent results mean that the team picks itself.

There’s been a lot of stuff in the papers about how dangerous Tel Aviv is with all the suicide bombings that have been going on, but as a professional footballer you put that to the back of your mind and focus on the game. I was disappointed with Graeme Le Saux and a couple of the other Chelsea lads a few seasons back when they didn’t travel to Israel for a Champions’ League game. Ireland had to go to the North at a tense time and to the former Yugoslavia when they were at war with Croatia and nobody cried off. There was a bit of black humour in the coach on the way to the grounds, but we accepted the UEFA decision that it was safe to travel and got on with it.

Knowing players as I do, I very much doubt that Damien Duff and Robbie Keane are sitting down at the moment and discussing the finer points of Israeli policy in the West Bank, or whether the change of Palestinian leadership will have any impact on how Hezbollah operates. Rather than them being stupid or not caring, it’s a case of them concentrating 100% on their football.

There was a remarkable case before Christmas when Inter Milan, via-their Argentine captain Javier Zanetti, donated €5,000, an ambulance and his number 4 shirt to the Zapatista guerillas in Mexico. I’ve never been aware of anything that politicised here, although Niall Quinn organised a whip-round at Arsenal once for the Irish homeless in London. They gave him a hammering and said “Fuck the Paddys!” but everybody chipped in.

There were times playing for the Republic when I’d ask the lads born in Ireland for their take on the political situation. I felt there was an onus on me to be as informed as I reasonably could be.


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