An air of dejection continued to hang over the Israel camp on Saturday evening
as it returned to the training field a day after the 3-3 draw against Portugal
in a 2014 World Cup qualifier at National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
national team looked to be on course for its first victory over a real rival in
qualification for a major tournament since the 20th century when Rami Gershon
gave it a 3-1 lead in the 70th minute.
However, a 93rd-minute equalizer
by Portugal’s Fabio Coentrao denied Israel one of its greatest ever victories,
breaking blue-and-white hearts and handing the national team’s lingering hopes
of qualifying for a first World Cup since 1970 an almost fatal
Israel remained in second place in the group, ahead of Portugal on
goal difference, but Eli Gutman’s side still faces matches on the road against
group powerhouses Russia and Portugal.
Only the group winner will
automatically qualify for next year’s tournament in Brazil, while the eight-best
runnersup from the nine qualifying groups will play-off for the remaining four
“I’m very disappointed because we neutralized all their
strengths,” said a frustrated Gutman. “Had we won the match it would have given
us a real push in the qualifying campaign.
“I’m pleased that the team
fought back after going behind, but I end the match with mixed
Israel will fly to Belfast on Sunday ahead of Tuesday’s
qualifier versus Northern Ireland.
The match between Northern Ireland and
Russia scheduled for Friday was postponed to a yet to be determined date after
heavy snow meant the encounter couldn’t be played in Belfast on Friday or
Elyaniv Barda will join the national team in Belfast in place
of Tomer Hemed, who is suspended after picking up a yellow card against
“We know what we need to do to win in Belfast,” said Gutman.
“The players will have to put the Portugal festival behind them. As painful as
the result was, they will have to forget about it because we will be facing a
tough opponent who will be making life difficult for us.”
hadn’t even found their seat when Bruno Alves gave Portugal an early lead on
A Miguel Veloso corner caught the national team napping and Alves
rose highest to powerfully head the ball right above goalkeeper Dudu Aouate’s
head after just 88 seconds.
It took the blue-and-white several minutes to
regain their composure, but Israel equalized in the 24th minute after a swift
Yuval Shpungin crossed from the right flank and Eden Ben-Basat
cunningly let the ball pass through his legs and reach Hemed, who expertly
turned in the box and blasted in his sixth goal in five
Unlike in the 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Russia in October,
Israel didn’t collapse after going behind so early in the encounter and
completed a remarkable comeback by the break.
Hemed’s back-heel pass in
the 40th minute was timed to perfection for the surging Ben-Basat, who scored
for the third straight qualifier with a stunning finish into the top right
Israel held on to its lead until the break, but only thanks to
much maligned defender Tal Ben-Haim, who denied Helder Postiga a clear shot at
goal with a seamless last-ditch tackle in stoppage time.
applying pressure right from the start of the second half, but Israel fans were
holding their heads in disbelief after Gershon headed the hosts into a two-goal
advantage with 20 minutes to play.
However, Israel couldn’t avoid a tense
finish, with the otherwise quiet Ronaldo slicing the defense two minutes later
before laying the ball off for Postiga for an easy tally.
breathed a huge sigh of relief in the 90th minute when Coentrao’s header hit the
crossbar, but the national team couldn’t hold on, with the defender scoring in
the third minute of stoppage time after another mistake by
Ronaldo may have done little on the pitch at Ramat Gam, but he
still created an uproar after posting a picture of himself on his Facebook page
on Thursday, writing, “Great morning in Israel with my colleagues.”
post created a flurry of responses from anti-Israelis writing that it is
Palestine, not Israel.
As of Saturday night, Ronaldo’s post had more than
327,000 likes and more than 11,000 shares. In the comment section, there was a
heated political back-and-forth between Israelis and Arabs.