After needing a stoppage-time penalty save from Dudu Goresh (in green) to win in Macedonia, the Israel national team will be hoping for a more straight-forward victory when it hosts Liechtenstein at Teddy Stadium tonight.
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
After riding its luck on the way to its first win in 2018 World Cup qualification in Macedonia, Israel hopes for an improved performance and a much calmer night when it hosts Liechtenstein at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on Sunday.
Following a 3-1 loss to Italy in Haifa in its group opener last month, Israel defeated Macedonia 2-1 in Skopje on Thursday, with goalkeeper Dudu Goresh saving a penalty in the fifth minute of stoppage time to secure the three points.
Macedonia dominated the encounter, but goals by Tomer Hemed (25) and Tal Ben-Haim (43) against the run of play combined with some inexplicable misses by the hosts saw Israel take a promising lead into the break. Ilija Nestorovski got a goal back for Macedonia in the 63rd minute, and after being denied by Goresh on several occasions, the hosts looked set to claim a point they deserved deep into stoppage time.
Eitan Tibi was caught by English referee Andre Marriner pulling down Adis Jahovic in the box, but Goresh saved Israel, denying Jahovic’s weak effort.
Liechtenstein is expected to give the blue-and-white far less trouble on Sunday after losing its first two matches by a combined goal difference of 0-10.
Powerhouses Italy and Spain are set to finish in the top two spots in the group, but the blue-and-white can’t afford to drop points against Liechtenstein if it intends to finish at least in third place.
Only the winners of each group will qualify automatically for Russia 2018, with the eight best runners-up to advance to home-and-away playoffs.
Israel coach Elisha Levy is set to make several changes to the team that won in Macedonia. Rami Gershon will replace the suspended Tibi in the center of the defense, while Eyal Golasa, who is carrying an injury, is expected to vacate his place in the lineup in favor of a more attacking midfielder like Roei Kehat, Omer Atzili or Maor Buzaglo.
“We really needed the points in Macedonia,” said Levy. “We played well in certain stages and they embarrassed us on defense on other occasions.
But a good team needs to know how to win even when it isn’t playing its best, especially on the road. You need to prove your character to win away from home and clearly we were also lucky with the penalty miss. But that is part of the game and now we need to beat Liechtenstein at home.”
After impressing against Italy in its opener but still losing 3-1, Levy was pleased that the blue-and-white got the result it needed in Skopje despite its level of play.
“We need to be happy with the win and correct our mistakes,” said Levy.
“I’m not ignoring our poor minutes against Macedonia, but I’m also not ignoring the fact that we showed our character by winning at a tough stadium on the road.”
Levy plans to use a more attacking formation on Sunday.
“We need to come with an attacking attitude to the match against Liechtenstein,” explained Levy. “I don’t think it is wise to underestimate Liechtenstein.”
Captain Eran Zahavi will continue in the starting lineup and will hope to make the most of the match to improve on his poor scoring record for the national team, netting only five goals in 33 appearances.
“I’m happy that there are such high expectations from me,” said Zahavi.
“But it is wrong to judge my play for the national team only according to how many goals I score. If we play well and score goals I’m sure I will score as well.”