What a giveaway
ISRAEL missed the chance to go top of their World Cup qualifying group when they conceded a last-minute goal in Latvia on Wednesday night.
Captain Yossi Benayoun had put Israel ahead but the visitors’ failure to claim maximum points in a match they dominated could cost them dearly as they strive to reach the finals for the first time in 40 years.
Benayoun’s strike four minutes into the second half looked set to help Israel make it six points from two games after beating Luxembourg 3-1 on Saturday night, as they strived to keep within striking distance of Group 2 front-runners Greece.
Manager Dror Kashtan said: “We moved the ball around well and controlled the game. But we paid for one mistake in the last minute. We should have got the ball into the Latvian half but, instead, kept passing it back into our own half.”
The result was all the more frustrating as group leaders Greece were beaten 2-1 at home by Switzerland to leave Israel a point off the top spot after four games.
Israel had most of the possession in the first half but failed to capitalise on their superiority as the tall Latvian defenders dealt with an aerial bombardment comfortably. Israel’s only shot on target came in the 42nd minute when Elyaniv Barda turned on the edge of the area to send in a powerful strike which Andris Vanins did well to push away.
Benayoun broke the deadlock with an excellent strike into the top corner. Israel sat back for much of the second half but Latvia failed to create opportunities. Barda almost put the match beyond the hosts in the 85th minute when he smashed a volley on to the underside of the bar.
Latvia punished Israel’s inability to kill off the match when Andrejs Rubins broke down the wing and crossed for Vladimir Kolensnicenko to poke home.
The draw marked a vastly improved performance from the one that saw Israel win 3-1 in Luxembourg on Saturday night. Israel got off to a dream start when home keeper Jonathan Joubert fouled Omer Golan in the first minute. Benayoun converted the penalty.
Luxembourg levelled through Rene Peters and almost took a shock lead but Gilles Bettmer’s shot hit the post.
Israel regained the lead in the second half when Golan fired home and they sealed victory with seven minutes left when Salim Touame cut in from the right to hit a superb rising shot.
Israel return to qualifying action next spring with a crucial doubleheader against group leaders Greece who will play at Ramat Gan on March 28 with the return in Athens on April 1.
Israel’s Under 21 team failed to reach next summer’s Euro finals after losing 3-1 against Italy in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. Toto Tamuz scored for Israel who drew the first match 0-0.
Israel captain Yossi Benayoun scored in both World Cup qualifiers