(photo credit: REUTERS)
Any lingering hopes Israel may have had of reaching Euro 2012 were dashed on
Tuesday night after a 3-1 defeat to Croatia in Zagreb.
After losing to
Greece 1-0 at Bloomfield Stadium on Friday, the national team had to win in
Croatia to maintain a slender chance of a top-two finish in Group F. Everything
seemed to be going according to plan when Tomer Hemed gave the blue-and-white a
1-0 halftime lead with a goal in the 44th minute.
However, Luka Modric
equalized for the hosts with the second half less than two minutes old, and a
reckless challenge by Tal Ben-Haim in the 51st minute made Israel’s mission all
Ben-Haim’s foolish tackle on Eduardo resulted in a red
card and the Croatian striker scored a quick brace in the 55th and 57th minutes
to officially end Israel’s dream of advancing to the European
Israel will complete its qualifying campaign with a match
against Malta on October 11, but it can already begin planning for its 2014
World Cup campaign where it will face Portugal, Russia, Northern Ireland,
Azerbaijan and Luxembourg in Group F.
Coach Luis Fernandez is set to
leave and Israel fans will be hoping that his replacement will be able to
finally end the national team’s drought and guide it to a major tournament for
the first time since the 1970 World Cup.
The lack of pressure did Israel
wonders at the start of the match and it even found the back of the net after
less than five minutes.
Biram Kiyal’s shot from 20 meters out beat
’keeper Stipe Pletikosa, but it took a late deflection off Yossi Benayoun, who
was marginally offside.
Croatia struggled to find its rhythm and apart
from Dejan Lovren’s header in the sixth minute – which was saved by Dudu Aouate
– created little to nothing in the first 30 minutes of the
Israel contained the Croats with ease, with Aouate clearing
the danger whenever the hosts finally broke down the blue-and-white
One minute from the break, Israel took a stunning
The Croatian defense cleared Eran Zahavi’s through ball straight
into Hemed’s feet and the RCD Mallorca striker scored the opener with a stunning
The first half went exactly as Fernandez had hoped, but
everything possible would go wrong after the interval.
Fernandez had to
substitute the injured Aouate with Maccabi Tel Aviv goalkeeper Guy Haimov and
after less than two minutes on the field he already had to pick the ball out of
the back of the net.
Disgruntled Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Luka Modric
showed exactly why Chelsea was chasing him so vigorously this summer, releasing
an unstoppable effort from 20 meters out.
Four minutes later, Ben- Haim
ended any hope Israel may have had of leaving Zagreb with all three
The Portsmouth defender irresponsibly lunged at Croatia’s Eduardo
and fully deserved to be shown a red card by Spanish referee Carlos Velasco
Eduardo, who had his career wrecked by a thoughtless tackle
when he was playing for Arsenal two-and-a-half years ago, avenged Ben- Haim’s
wild challenge with two goals in three minutes that would clinch Croatia’s
In the 55th minute, Modric picked out the Brazilianborn striker and
he chipped Haimov before heading in another goal two minutes later to ensure
Croatia took all three points and Israel’s dreams of qualifying came to an end
with one match to play.