Israel gave England a lifeline — but they blew it in a night to forget
Israel stuck to their side of the bargain by beating Russia 2-1 on Saturday, leaving the way open for England to only have to draw — at home and against lowly Croatia — to qualify.
But it was all in vain as Steve McClaren’s men broke a nation’s heart with an inept display that saw them crash to a 3-2 defeat.
Israel finished their Group E qualifying campaign on a high, beating Macedonia 1-0 on Wednesday in front of only 3,000 fans, thanks to a strike from Elyaniv Barda, who scored the opener at the weekend.
The victories take them into Sunday’s 2010 World Cup qualifying draw in Durban, South Africa, in buoyant mood. They will hope to be given an easier draw and their strong finish in the European campaign will see them promoted into the pot for third seeds.
Manager Dror Kashtan said: “Israeli football has a bright future ahead of it and our aim is to qualify for a big tournament. We have a young and talented side and we would be wasting our time if we would not set ourselves lofty goals.
“I have integrated young players into the team throughout the campaign and I plan to continue doing so. We showed our character and seriousness on Saturday and we’re definitely progressing.”
Having beaten Macedonia 2-1 away in the corresponding fixture, Israel went into the Russia game upbeat after Omer Golan and Barda preserved their home record of just one defeat in the past eight years.
It has also been eight years since Israel beat higher-ranked opposition in a competitive fixture.
Reflecting on the Russia win, standin captain Tal Ben Haim said: “I was delighted with the result and our overall performance. We proved to the rest of the world how professional we are.
“The Russians underestimated us before the match and made some cocky comments which acted in our favour.
“The result is obviously something that has made a lot of my team-mates back at Chelsea very happy and proud.
Joy: Israel supersub Omer Golan celebrates the goal that rekindled England’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2008 with a late winner against Russia
Dejection: England’s Steven Gerrard reflects on what might have been