Israel striker Tomer Hemed (center) celebrates after scoring his team’s third goal in the win over Andorra at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
After losing its previous three matches, Israel kick-started its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign on Thursday night with a 4-0 victory against Andorra at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa.
Israel remained in third place in Group B after brushing aside the minnows and picked up some much-needed confidence ahead of Sunday’s crucial showdown with Wales in Cardiff.
Wales continues to lead the group after beating Cyprus 1-0 in Nicosia, with Gareth Bale scoring the only goal of the match in the 82nd minute. Wales moved to 17 points, three ahead of Belgium, which defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-1 in Brussels. Edin Dzeko gave Bosnia the lead in the 15th minute, only for Marouane Fellaini (23), Kevin De Bruyne (44) and Eden Hazard (78) to complete the comeback for the hosts.
Israel is two points further back, with Cyprus in fourth place, three points behind the blue-and-white and Bosnia in fifth, four points back of Eli Gutman’s men.
The top two and the best third-placed team from the nine qualifying groups advance automatically to the finals in France, with the remaining eight thirdplaced sides to play a home-and-away playoff for four berths.
Israel will wrap-up its campaign with two matches next month, welcoming Cyprus on October 10 before completing its qualifiers at Belgium three days later.
The national team opened its campaign with three consecutive wins before dropping to defeats to Wales, Belgium and Bosnia-Herzegovina, seriously complicating its position in the group.
The showdown with Andorra couldn’t have come at a better time for the blueand- white, which last tasted victory almost 10 months ago.
Israel was always going to be a massive favorite against an opponent which has won just one match since making its competitive debut in Euro 2000 qualification and it clinched all three points within the first half an hour in Haifa.
Any illusion Andorra may have had of leaving Israel with a point all but ended when Eran Zahavi continued his sensational form with a goal in the third minute. Nir Bitton (22), Tomer Hemed (26) and Munas Dabbur (38) made it 4-0 before the halftime break, sending Andorra to its seventh defeat in seven qualifiers by a combined goal difference of 3-27.
Zahavi scored for a sixth straight match over all competitions, turning in the rebound from a Bitton shot. The Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder took his tally over the past three weeks to nine goals, including all three of Maccabi’s goals against FC Basel in the Champions League playoffs, leading the yellow-andblue to the group stage. It was Zahavi’s second goal of Euro 2016 qualifying and just his fourth in 27 matches for Israel, a record he will be hoping to improve once more against Wales.
Zahavi also set up the second goal, with his cross from a free kick being turned in by Bitton’s header, his first goal for the national team. Hemed netted from the penalty spot in the 26th minute after Dabbur was fouled in the box before the latter scored his first international goal seven minutes from the break.
On Saturday, Wayne Rooney can break Bobby Charlton’s 45-year-old record and become the first player to score 50 goals for England when Roy Hodgson’s men take on San Marino.
Charlton’s record of 49 goals from his 106 internationals has stood since May 1970 but Rooney, who has 48 in 105 matches, has the perfect opportunity to beat it when England plays tiny San Marino in Serravalle in Group E on Saturday.