Israel’s national team returned home from Northern Ireland on Wednesday evening
brimming with confidence and brandishing broad smiles after claiming a 2-0 win
in Belfast the previous night to keep alive its lingering hopes of reaching the
2014 World Cup.
The national team was far from impressive on Tuesday, but
it kept the hosts at bay and struck twice on the break through Lior Rafaelov
(77) and Eden Ben-Basat (84) to clinch all three points and remain in second
place in Group F with 11 points, ahead of Portugal on goal
Israel doesn’t play its next qualifier until September 6,
when it hosts Azerbaijan before visiting Russia four days later. The
blue-and-white will then visit Portugal on October 11 before concluding its
campaign with a home match against Northern Ireland four days after
However, Israel will be keeping a keen eye on the showdown between
Portugal and Russia on June 7, crossing its fingers for a Russian win on the
Portugal will then visit Northern Ireland (September 6) before
hosting Israel and completing its qualifiers against Luxembourg at
With four wins from four matches and two more games still to come
against Luxembourg, Russia seems set to run away with first place in Group F and
the automatic qualification spot, leaving Israel and Portugal to battle it out
for the runners-up position and a berth in the playoffs.
has the edge in the standings, but has still got to visit both Russia and
Assuming it defeats both Azerbaijan and Northern Ireland in its
remaining home matches, Israel will still likely need to at least draw in
Portugal and for Cristiano Ronaldo and friends to slip up at home against Russia
or versus Northern Ireland in Belfast.
Israel would have clearly found
itself in a far more favorable position had it not conceded a 93rd-minute
equalizer in Friday’s 3-3 draw against Portugal at Ramat Gan. However, the win
in Northern Ireland at least ensures the blue-and-white can continue to dream of
a first World Cup appearance in 44 years for another six months.
come a long way since the 4-0 loss to Russia,” said Israel coach Eli Gutman
following the victory in Belfast.
“We didn’t start the campaign well and
I take all the responsibility for that.
It wasn’t that we weren’t
prepared, but our tactics weren’t clear enough. I initially used the 4-4-2
formation I successfully implemented at Hapoel Tel Aviv, but soon understood
that it wouldn’t work.
“We weren’t great against Northern Ireland, but we
showed heart and tactical discipline. The national team has become a Gutman team
where every player is disciplined and does his job.
We have a united
dressing room and the players fought for each other, something which gives me a
lot of confidence.”
Rafaelov echoed his coach’s sentiment.
didn’t play our best game, but we only cared about taking the points,” said the
Club Brugge midfielder. “There has always been a good atmosphere in the Israel
squad, but I can’t remember such a unified team.
“It wouldn’t be wise to
make any statements about reaching the World Cup as we are undergoing a
rebuilding process and hopefully that can continue.
“There is still a
long and tough road to come and our results in the beginning of the campaign
don’t leave us with much room for mistakes. However, we must continue to