A 93rd-minute goal by substitute Lior Rafaelov gave Israel a 2-1 victory over
Finland in Netanya on Wednesday night in the national team’s final warm-up match
ahead of next month’s 2014 World Cup qualifier versus Portugal.
coach Eli Gutman labeled the encounter as a dress rehearsal for the crucial
qualifier against the Portuguese and he tested the ultra-defensive formation he
intends on using at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on March 22.
Ben-Basat gave Israel the lead in the 2nd minute with his third goal in his past
four national team appearances, with Bibras Natcho catching Finland’s defense
off guard with a well-measured through ball after taking a quick free
The blue-and-white retreated back after the opener, repelling
Finland’s attacks the way it hopes to do against Cristiano Ronaldo and friends
However, should Israel allow Portugal the amount of
possession it gifted the Finns on Wednesday it will in all likelihood be
punished severely, with Gutman’s men letting the visitors move the ball freely
for much of Wednesday’s game.
Israel’s defensive game-plan looked to have
even failed against Finland after the visitors netted a deserved equalizer in
the 86th minute thanks to Petteri Forsell’s powerful left-footed strike from 20
However, with Finland sending players forward in search of a
winner, Israel broke swiftly and Rafaelov clinched the team’s first win in six
friendly matches under Gutman with a clinical move on the edge of the
“We were focusing on our play and not on that of the opponent,”
said Rafaelov. “We tried not to open up the match too much because we know that
against Portugal they will control the ball most of the time and that will
demand of us to defend.”
However, Rafaelov admitted that what barely
worked against Finland is unlikely to succeed against Portugal.
is a much stronger team than Finland,” he said. “We will have to locate their
weaknesses and take advantage of them. Portugal is a much better team than we
are and we will need to find a way to surprise them. We are aiming to keep a
cleansheet and steal a goal.”
Gutman seemed content with his team’s
performance, despite Israel’s complete lack of urgency and attacking
“We had a goal in this match,” he said. “We planned to sit back
and try and attack Finland on the break. I’m very pleased that we managed to
accomplish most of the parameters we worked on in the past couple of days. I’m
not so happy by our transition game and our ball movement.”
acknowledged that his side failed to entertain the 6,150 fans in Netanya, but he
was adamant that the end justified the means.
“This was not a fun match
to watch, but the pride we will feel when the national team wins will make up
for the lack of beauty in our play,” he said. “Apart from set pieces they never
really threatened our goal.
“The goal we conceded also came from a
long-range effort. On the other hand, we managed to create several chances on