JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel coach Eli Guttman dropped stalwart captain Yossi Benayoun from his squad on Saturday ahead of back-to-back World Cup European group F qualifiers against Luxembourg next week.
The West Ham United midfielder was one of a number surprise omissions from a list of 23 named ahead of the October 12 clash in Luxembourg and the return fixture in Tel Aviv four days later.
Guttman offered no explanation for the move in statement issued by the Israel Football Association, but local media reports said players had been dropped because they were not getting regular playing time at their clubs.
Israel’s campaign got off to a poor start last month with a 1-1 away draw against Azerbaijan followed by a 4-0 home drubbing by Russia, their worst start in qualifying since 1994.
Guttman has not won a game since taking over last December and with vital points already dropped, his hopes of taking Israel to a first major tournament finals since 1970, from a qualifying group that also includes Portugal and Northern Ireland, appear bleak.
Benayoun, 32, had made 90 international appearances for Israel, second on the all-time list, and scored 24 goals. He had been Israel’s regular captain since 2008.
Others dropped included experienced defender Tal Ben Haim, who is currently without a club following his departure from Portsmouth. Strikers Itai Shechter of Swansea City and Hertha Berlin’s Ben Sahar, and Nuremburg midfielder Almog Cohen were also omitted.
Editing by Ian Ransom