Israel midfielder Bibras Natcho (center) tries to wrestle the ball away from Slovakia’s Marek Hamsik (left)..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Israel coach Eli Gutman was given plenty to mull over on Wednesday night ahead of the start of Euro 2016 qualification in six months’ time. The alarm bells are already all ringing following the national team’s lackluster display in the 3-1 defeat to Slovakia in an international friendly in Netanya.
The result on Wednesday night was far from important, especially with Israel not hosting Belgium in its first qualifier until September 9. However, the blueand- white’s poor performance can’t be ignored, with Slovakia outplaying the hosts for large periods.
Martin Jakubko scored the opener eight minutes from the break before Jan Durica doubled the advantage in the 69th minute. Substitute Maor Buzaglo got a goal back for Israel in the 80th minute, only for Robert Mak to secure Slovakia’s victory three minutes later, with the national team’s defense being sliced to pieces with ease.
“There is plenty of work to do, but I’m the last person who is concerned about hard work,” said Gutman. “I’m not worried, but I am aware of the national team’s situation. I’m not burying my head in the sand. I never said it would be easy to qualify for Euro 2016. We will need to excel as individuals and as a team.”
Israel was drawn to face Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, Wales, Cyprus and Andorra in Group B, with the qualifiers to be played from September of this year until October 2015.
The top two teams in each group will automatically advance to Euro 2016, with the best third-place finisher to also gain direct qualification. The remaining eight third-placed teams will take part in play-offs during November 2015.
Slovakia, who like Israel was a third seed in the recent qualification draw, always looked like the likelier team to make the breakthrough and Israel’s new number one goalkeeper Ariel Harush was fortunate not to concede an early goal.
Harush parried a Slovakia cross right into defender Eyal Meshumar in the 10th minute, but Rami Gershon came to his ‘keeper’s rescue by acrobatically clearing the ball off the line.
Harush was helpless once more two minutes later, but the upright would deny Valdimir Weiss’s deflected freekick from the edge of the box.
Israel only registered its first shot on target nine minutes from the halftime interval, with Eran Zahavi firing a powerful effort saved by Slovakia’s Jan Mucha.
However, just when it seemed like Israel was about to get going, Slovakia moved into a well-earned lead.
A fantastic team move was finished off by a Jakubko header, ensuring the visitors held an advantage they deserved at the break.
Slovakia made three changes at the start of the second half, but it was Israel which finally displayed some urgency, with Zahavi testing Mucha five minutes after the interval.
However, the blue-and-white failed to threaten the Slovakia defense on a consistent basis and the visitors doubled their lead in the 69th minute. Israel was slow to react to Slovakia’s free-kick and Durica made no mistake with his close range header.
Gutman made two substitutions in the 58th minute, bringing on Buzaglo and Maor Melikson, and the former would hand the hosts a lifeline with 10 minutes to play.
Buzaglo, who was playing for the national team for the first time since October 2011, scored with a superb strike from 25 meters out, finally giving the 7,200 fans on hand something to cheer about.
However, the celebrations were shortlived, with Slovakia reestablishing a two-goal margin through Mak three minutes later to leave Gutman with far more negatives than positives ahead of Euro 2016 qualification.