israel greece 311.
(photo credit: AP)
Israel’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2012 are all but finished after a 2-1
defeat to Greece at Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus, near Athens, on
The loss leaves Israel tied for fourth place in Group F
with six qualifiers remaining – making it extremely unlikely for the
blue-and-white to secure a berth to its first European
Israel played perhaps its best game under coach Luis
Fernandez, who was under immense pressure from the national media – injured
striker Yossi Benayoun had to defend him in a radio interview before the game –
following a 2-1 home loss to Croatia on Saturday night.
The visitors had
chances throughout the match in Greece, but the scoreboard signaled what could
be a tumultuous few months for Fernandez before Israel’s next series of
qualifiers in mid-March.
Fernandez switched to a 4-4- 2 formation and
made five changes to the starting lineup for Tuesday night, the most successful
of which was the insertion of Maccabi Haifa forward Lior Refaelov, who concocted
a number of chances for the visitors.
Israel played confidently at the
start and got its first chance in the seventh minute when Itai Shechter tracked
down a long ball into the area and set up Refaelov from 15 meters, but his shot
slid past the right post.
Fernandez called for an aggressive back line
for much of the first half, resulting in an Israel-dominated midfield as well as
a number of offside calls on the Greeks.
The strategy backfired in the
22nd minute, however, when Pantelis Kafes unleashed a perfect lead pass for
striker Dimitris Salpingidis, who had to lock arms with Dekel Keinan to hold off
him off as they chased down the ball.
Salpingidis outmuscled the
Blackpool defender and reached the ball at the edge of the box, flicking it over
an exasperated Aouate, who broke for the ball far too late, and Greece led
Salpingidis was the most dangerous man on the field for the rest of
the half, and had several similar long lead passes come his way. But Aouate and
the Israeli defense managed to pressure him into either losing possession or
Shechter set up Israel’s next opportunity when some clever
dribbling led to a free kick from 20 meters with five minutes left in the half,
but Refaelov’s shot whistled over the crossbar.
Shechter received a
yellow card two minutes later for trying to draw a penalty when he put on a
subpar acting job in Greek ’keeper Michalis Sifakis’s box, and will miss the
next qualifier after back-to-back booking.
Israel finally broke through
in the 59th minute when Refaelov won the ball on the left side and left it for
Roberto Colautti at the edge of the box near the baseline.
Tel Aviv forward unleashed a cross that passed through the legs of Avraam
Papadopoulos and found a sliding Shechter, who arrived at the ball with Nikos
The two players collided simultaneously with the ball, which
found its way just inside the left post. Spyropoulos was credited with an
own-goal, and Israel found a new source of energy and urgency after leveling the
Israel’s jubilation was shortlived, however. Salpingidis found a
wide open space on the left wing only three minutes later, and was taken down by
Aouate when the ’keeper dove to knock the ball away from the box.
Martin Hansson had no choice but to award the hosts a penalty, and captain
Giorgos Karagounis found the bottom left corner to break the
Refaelov set up the visitors again only two minutes later, holding
off a string of defenders and finding Colautti with a cross that gave the
Maccabi Tel Aviv striker a wide angle. But his shot rang against the post, and
the hosts exhaled deeply.
Aouate was on his toes in the 74th when he
saved a rocket from Salpingidis and then had to punch away a header pass from
Dani Bondarv that drifted too close to the goal.
tantalizingly close to getting Israel a point in the standings as the game
entered extra time, impressively creating some space for himself in the left
side of the box.
But, as it had for the 24-yearold so many times
throughout the evening, his shot sailed just outside of the
Greece then had no more issues holding off their opponents for
the final few minutes, ensuring an empty-handed return across the Mediterranean
for the blue-and-white.