It is that time again.
The time to add four more years to Israel’s World
Any lingering hope Israel may have had of advancing to a
first World Cup since 1970 ended on Saturday night following a 1-1 draw against
Azerbaijan at National Stadium in Ramat Gan, meaning the blue-and-white will go
at least 48 years between qualifying for World Cups.
Even with a win over
Azerbaijan, Israel would have still required to at least beat either Russia or
Portugal on the road to have any chance of finishing as the group runner-up and
progressing to the playoffs.
However, before it plotted how it would stun
the Russians or Portuguese, Israel first had to get the better of Azerbaijan and
for the second time in its campaign it could only record a draw against a
clearly inferior side.
The national team was without seven injured
players on Saturday, including strikers Tomer Hemed and Eden Ben- Basat, who had
accounted for 10 of the team’s 15 goals in Group F.
However, the side
implemented by Gutman on Saturday was still more than capable of overcoming
Azerbaijan, only to drop to another dejecting draw and leave the coach to wonder
where the blue-and-white goes from here.
“It hurts me that another
campaign is over,” said Gutman. “It is true that our group was always going to
be tough, but I believed we could do it and we had some nice moments. We also
had some not so nice ones, like tonight. As things currently stand, Russia and
Portugal will end the group in the first two places, but we will have to play
for our pride. This campaign makes me sad. You prepare for months and then it
ends like this.”
Israel struggled to threaten Azerbaijan’s goal from the
start of the match, with defender Eitan Tibi coming closest to breaking the
deadlock in the first half, hitting the post with his shot in the 18th
Eran Zahavi squandered a golden opportunity in the first minute
of the second half when he fired straight at Kamran Agayev with only the ‘keeper
The visitors rarely ventured forward but it was Azerbaijan which
took the lead in the 61st minute.
Goalkeeper Dudu Aouate got his hand to
Rahid Amirguliyev long-range effort but couldn’t do enough to keep it
Israel leveled the score via Itay Shechter in the 73rd minute, but
never really came close to scoring a winner, meaning the familiar boos rung
around the stadium at the final whistle once more.
“Azerbaijan deserves a
lot of credit, but I’m very disappointed,” said Gutman.
“We need to make
sure we don’t embarrass ourselves against Russia on Tuesday.”