National team falls to Croatia in friendly

Two first-half goals send blue-and-white to defeat under interim coach Alon Hazan.

March 24, 2016 05:00
2 minute read.
Israel midfielder Nir Biton (left) battles Croatia’s Luka Modric for the ball

Israel midfielder Nir Biton (left) battles Croatia’s Luka Modric for the ball during last night’s 2-0 defeat in an international friendly in Osijek. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The next Israel national team coach was given plenty to mull over after the blue-and- white dropped to yet another defeat on Wednesday night, losing 2-0 to Croatia in an international friendly in Osijek.

Playing for the first time since the end of its failed Euro 2016 qualifying campaign last October and the departure of coach Eli Gutman, Israel showed some promise under the guidance of interim coach Alon Hazan, who took a few days off from his job as the under-17 national team coach to guide the senior side.

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However, Israel nevertheless dropped to its third straight international loss after also falling in its final two Euro 2016 qualifiers last year, with goals from Ivan Perisic (4) and Marcelo Brozovic (34) earning Croatia a comfortable win.

The Israel Football Association only officially began its search for the new head coach last week, five months after the departure of Gutman.

The search committee announced last week that it has invited Elisha Levy, Guy Luzon, Eli Ohana, Ran Ben-Shimon and Nir Klinger to interview for the job, with the first two considered to be the favorites to succeed Gutman.

The national team doesn’t play its first World Cup 2018 qualifier until September 5 when it hosts Italy. Israel’s hopes of reaching the World Cup for the first time since 1970 were already all but dashed after being paired with former World Cup winners Spain and Italy in qualifying Group G. Only the winners of each group will qualify automatically, with the eight best runners-up to advance to home-and-away playoffs. Israel will also face Albania, Macedonia and Liechtenstein.

Euro 2016 finalist Croatia took the lead in the fourth minute on Wednesday, moments after the visitors had struck the woodwork, when Perisic elegantly converted an accurate low cross from the left by Brozovic.

Brozovic added the second goal in the 34th minute in similar fashion, sneaking into the area to finish off another center from the left by Mario Mandzukic.

The open, attacking nature of the game continued in the second period with both sides hitting the woodwork and missing a string of scoring opportunities.

Yossi Benayoun, recalled by Hazan after almost two years away from the national team, came on as a substitute in the 77th minute to win a record 97th cap for Israel.

“The next Israel coach has good reason to be satisfied,” said Hazan.

“Of course you can’t be pleased when you lose, but if you examine the match there were quite a few reasons to enjoy the national team’s play against one of the best teams in Europe. We can be optimistic and I’m pleased with everyone that played.”

Midfielder Nir Biton echoed his coach’s sentiment.

“We faced a very strong team on the road,” said the Celtic player. “We were excellent in the second half and we have plenty to be proud of.

We have experienced players who can hopefully finally take us to a major tournament.”

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