Under-21s qualify for European finals

October 12, 2006 00:51
2 minute read.

Israel's under-21 side made history Wednesday night when it defeated France 1-0 in Herzliya to book its place at the European championships next summer. This is the first time an Israeli team has reached the UEFA Under-21 Championship and the biggest achievement by an Israeli national side since the blue-and-white took part in the 1976 Olympic Games. Only eight teams will take part in the tournament in the Netherlands next year, for which even European powers Germany and Spain failed to qualify. Israel's main goal at the championships will be to reach the last four of the tournament, which would guarantee it a spot in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called coach Guy Levy after the match to congratulate him. "The State of Israel is proud of you," he said. "You have accomplished an historic achievement." Israel drew 1-1 in the first leg of the qualifying playoff on Saturday against a heavily favored France and knew a clean sheet in Herzliya would guarantee it a place at the championships. The Israelis were under pressure from the talented French side for much of the match, but outstanding defense kept the visitors at bay and allowed the hosts to snatch the match at the death with substitute Amir Taga's goal. "We played against a team of the highest level. This is absolutely amazing," Levy said after the match. "Our goal was always to qualify for these championships and we did it." Israel's best player over the two legs was Maccabi Haifa defender Dekel Keinan, who led the team in its two excellent defensive displays. "We always said that we would accomplish our goal," he said. "I'm sure that everybody who saw us was excited. We've past France and now we need to reach the Olympics in Beijing." Toto Tamuz, who played for the senior side in Russia on Saturday, joined the U-21 side ahead of the crucial second leg and was fantastic throughout the match. "I've had a dream week, first with the senior team and now this," he said "It was very difficult, but we showed last week that we can beat the French. My body's trembling." In the first 30 minutes of the match Israel was content to defend and the French were unable to create a scoring chance. Israel had its first opportunity when Eliran Danin broke free on the left flank, but his cross flew across the face of the goal but no Israeli was in position to poke the ball into the net. Three minutes before halftime the French had the best chance of the half. Jimmy Briand found space in the Israeli box, but 'keeper Tom Almadon was up to the task and saved the shot. Israel was the better side at the start of the second half and almost took the lead in the 52nd minute. Maor Melikson sent an excellent pass to Omer Peretz, but the Maccabi Tel Aviv player couldn't find the target. Despite not needing to score, the hosts took control of the match and 20 minutes from the final whistle almost took the lead when Tamuz powered a header just wide of the left post. Seven minutes from full time Israel was saved by the woodwork. Albin Ebondo's shot got the better of Almadon, but fortunately for the hosts the ball hit the post. The French continued to mount pressure on the Israeli defense, but couldn't score. Three minutes into stoppage time Israel's place in the European championships was secure. Tamuz's shot was blocked by a French defender, but substitute Taga was on hand to score into an empty net and give the hosts the win.

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