The Israel national team were finding themselves in somewhat of an exodus ever since they had been expelled from the AFC in 1974. For the 1990 World Cup qualifiers, they would again have to compete in the OFC zone, like they had done in the previous World Cup campaign.
For the same reason, Israel hadn’t been involved in much competitive international football lately, being restricted to friendlies. Their last competitive action had in fact been the 1986 World Cup qualifiers, which had been a tight affair with Oceanic powerhouses Australia and New Zealand.
In March ’88, Israel had contested Olympic Games qualification, in order to try and reach the Seoul tournament, played out in September that year. They had travelled to Australia and New Zealand, where they’d played all six of their fixtures, twice against each of Australia, New Zealand and Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). The former pair they would also face off against in the following year’s World Cup qualification. They’d lost 2-0 to their Australian hosts, and later drawn 0-0 against the same opposition in New Zealand, while they’d twice won against the Kiwis (2-0 and 1-0 respectively). Chinese Taipei had been the whipping boys whom all the others had brushed aside. Israel had finished second, a mere point behind eventual winners Australia, who had progressed through to the Olympic Games competition.
After Israel’s failed attempt at reaching the 1988 Olympic Games football tournament in South Korea, their Yugoslav head coach Miljenko Mihić was dismissed, and they brought in a pair of head coaches to tackle the 1990 World Cup qualification. Arriving prior to the October ’88 friendly at home to Malta were Itzhak Schneor and Ya’acov Grundman, formerly with Tel Aviv clubs Hapoel and Shimshon respectively. Hapoel Tel Aviv had won the domestic league earlier in the year (they were playing autumn/spring), and would be relegated after the 1988/89 season, finishing last (!) among the 14 topflight clubs.
Noticeably, in this era, the Israelis had two players who both identified as Avi Cohen. The older of the pair was known to a British audience for his time with English giants Liverpool tail end 70s/early 80s, and he had captained the national side from a centre-back position in the Olympic Games qualification. He would never again feature internationally after March ’88, though, and so only the other (Avi Cohen “II”) played in the Italia ’90 qualification. He was a right-sided full-back domestically with Beitar Jerusalem.
A vital member of the Israeli squad right through the Olympic Games qualifiers had been 30 year old midfielder Uri Malmilian. The Beitar Jerusalem man had captained the side earlier in the year, and though he’d lost the armband to Avi Cohen for the qualifiers in Australia and New Zealand, he’d still be a presence in central midfield. Malmilian would, however, remain a non-feature throughout the World Cup qualification, until his return to national team action in May ’90.
Friendly: Israel 2-0 Malta
18.10.1988, Municipal Stadium (Beersheba)
Goals: Sinai, Driks
Line-up: Ginzburg – Iluz, Parselani, Alon (Shimonov h-t), Amar – E Cohen, Halevi, Sinai (c), Ben Baruch (S Menahem 84) – Levin (Driks h-t), Y Menahem
Friendly: Romania 3-0 Israel
23.11.1988, Stadionul Municipal (Sibiu)
Line-up: Asayag – Iluz, Parselani, Drapić, Amar – N Cohen (Alon 75), Davidi (Shimonov 67), Sinai (c), Klinger, Ben Baruch – Driks
Friendly: Israel 0-2 Netherlands
04.01.1989, Ramat Gan National Stadium (Tel Aviv)
Line-up: Gilardi – Aharoni, Parselani, Shimonov, Alon (Davidi 65) – E Cohen, Halevi, Sinai (c), Klinger (Driks 75) – Tikva, Rosenthal (Y Menahem 88)
Friendly: Malta 1-2 Israel
11.01.1989, Ta’Qali Stadium (Valletta)
Goals: Y Menahem, Sinai
Line-up: Gilardi – Iluz, Zana, Klinger (Levin 83), Aharoni (Amar h-t) – E Cohen, Halevi, Sinai (c), Davidi – Driks, Y Menahem
Friendly: Israel 3-3 Wales
08.02.1989, Ramat Gan National Stadium (Tel Aviv)
Goals: Klinger, Alon, Driks
Line-up: Gilardi – Aharoni, Amar, Alon, Pizanti – Davidi, Klinger, Sinai (c) – Levin (Atar 80), Rosenthal, Y Menahem (Driks h-t)