Israel’s players celebrate 3-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Israel took a massive step towards realizing its dream of qualifying for a first major tournament since 1970 on Sunday night, beating Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-0 at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa to extend its perfect start to Euro 2016 qualification.
The blue-and-white moved top of Group B with nine points out of a possible nine after outplaying one of its major rivals for qualification, opening a seven- point gap over Bosnia.
Everything seemed to be in place for Israel to record the win entering the encounter. The hosts boasted a full-strength squad, while Bosnia was missing several key players and had only picked up two points from its first three qualifiers.
However, the blue-and-white hadn’t beaten a real rival for qualification since the 20th century.
Its last victory in a meaningful encounter against a strong opponent was the famous 5-0 thrashing of Austria in June 1999.
That all changed in front of a capacity crowd of 33,000 fans in Haifa on Sunday night, with Gili Vermut (36), Omer Damari (45) and Eran Zahavi (70) scoring for Israel, while Toni Sunjic was sent off for Bosnia in the 48th minute.
Israel still has seven more qualifiers to play, but it is now in a perfect position to go on and at least finish in the top three in the group.
Thanks to the new format of the European Championships, which will involve 24 nations for the first time, not only will the top two and the best third-placed team from the nine qualifying groups advance automatically to the finals, but the remaining sides to finish in third place will progress to the playoffs.
Both teams were cautious at the start of the match, but it didn’t take long until the sides began to take greater risks and scoring opportunities would soon follow.
Tal Ben-Haim twice hit the post, but it was Israel which breathed a huge sigh of relief in the 31st minute.
Senad Lulic somehow failed to place his shot on target from only four meters out before Israel goalkeeper Ofir Martziano kept the score goalless with two excellent saves from Zoran Kvrzic and Haris Medunjanin.
Martziano’s stops proved to be crucial, with Israel taking the lead nine minutes from the break. A nifty team move ended with Vermut firing from the edge of the box, with a slight deflection leaving Begovic helpless.
Bosnia looked shell-shocked and Israel took full advantage. Zahavi threaded the ball through to Damari, who made no mistake and doubled the blue-and-white’s advantage on the stroke of halftime.
Matters only got better for Israel at the start of the second half, with Bosnia losing Sunjic to a red card in the 48th minute.
Sunjic was the last man on the Bosnia defense and he pulled down Damari on the edge of the box, leaving referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz with no option.
Zahavi capped the perfect night with a goal in the 70th minute and the players received a standing ovation they truly deserved as the final whistle to the memorable match was sounded.