Men's National Team

PZPN: Israeli Melikson stakes Poland claim

PZPN: Israeli Melikson stakes Poland claim

WARSAW, Poland. Sep 21 (AFP) – Israeli star Maor Melikson has staked his claim on a place in Poland’s squad as they brace to host UEFA EURO 2012, the head of the Polish PZPN football association said Wednesday.

Maor MeliksonThe Wisla Krakow attacking midfielder — who was called up for Israel’s failed UEFA EURO 2012 campaign but did not play — would become the latest in a string of names tapped by Poland to build up their squad.

“Maor has told me he really wants to play for Poland. I think it’s only a matter of time before he gets his first cap,” Grzegorz Lato, himself a former international, said on the PZPN’s website.

As pressure mounts to perform at the European championships, Poland have been scouting for new faces, mostly in the world’s huge Polish diaspora. If brought on board, he will join others who have opted for their ancestral homeland such as Frenchmen Damien Perquis and Ludovic Obraniak, and Germans Sebastian Boenisch and Eugen Polanski.

Melikson, 26, transferred to Polish top-flight club Wisla earlier this year from Israel’s Hapoel Beer Sheva. He was crucial to their winning title fight and was named league “Discovery of the Year”, although his Champions League showing has been less convincing.

The Israeli’s mother was born in Legnica in southwest Poland, meaning he got a Polish passport rapidly after arriving.

Melikson earned 25 caps for Israel’s under-19s and under-21s, scoring three goals. He even faced Poland in an under-19 Euro 2003 qualifier. At senior level, Melikson debuted for Israel against Uruguay in May 2010. In his second outing, when Israel were beaten 4-3 by Ivory Coast, he scored two goals.

Because those matches were only friendlies, world football’s governing body FIFA would let him switch countries. The rules bar players from changing if they ever take to the turf in a senior-level competitive match, however.

Melikson was called up for Israel’s UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers against Croatia and Greece earlier this month, but injury kept him from playing.

Wisla’s Dutch manager Robert Maaskant said Melikson’s decision to switch “wasn’t easy” but took the Israel Football Association to task.

“It was only when Maor started playing for Wisla that they sat up and noticed him,” he said.

Melikson’s agent Dudu Dahan told Polish news agency PAP: “Maor has more chance of playing for Poland at big tournaments than for Israel. You simply have a better team”.

Home fans are desperate for a return to long-lost glory when Poland hosts Euro 2012 along with neighbouring Ukraine.

Poland notched up Olympic gold in 1972 and were third at the 1974 World Cup, when PZPN boss Lato was the tournament’s top scorer with seven goals.

They won Olympic silver in 1976, and placed third again at the 1982 World Cup.

But subsequent decades have been lean.

Their solid World Cup qualifying runs turned into lacklustre finals performances in 2002 and 2006, just like their European championships debut in 2008.

As hosts, they have an automatic berth at UEFA EURO 2012, but failed to shine in a series of skill-honing friendlies.

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