Israel in dire need of a victory in Slovenia

After drawing with North Macedonia, blue-and-white looks to resurrect Euro qualifying campaign.

By JOSHUA HALICKMAN
September 9, 2019 08:33
3 minute read.
Israel in dire need of a victory in Slovenia

ISRAEL WAS held to a 1-1 draw at home on Friday night against North Macedonia and faces a tricky road Euro 2020 Group G qualifier tonight in Slovenia. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Israel will look to get back on the winning track after drawing 1-1 with North Macedonia when it face Slovenia on Monday night in Ljubljana in a critical Euro 2020 qualification encounter.

Slovenia is level with Israel on points with eight, but leapfrogged the blue-and-white into third place in the Group G standings after surprising conquest of Poland 2-0 on Friday night. Poland still leads the group with 12 points while Austria moved into second place after hammering Latvia 6-0. With the group so tight, Israel will look to keep its chances alive against Slovenia after drawing 1-1 with Bojan Jokic’s team back in March.

Andi Herzog’s blue-and-white squad will once again heavily rely on Eran Zahavi, who has scored eight goals in five qualifying games to lead the competition on the offensive side of the ball, as well as Shakhtar Donetsk’s budding superstar Manor Solomon and Bibras Natcho in the midfield.

However, Israelis will need to make sure they keep a good eye out for Atalanta’s attacking midfielder Josip Ilicic who has been dangerous throughout qualification and Slovan Bratislava forward Andras Sporar who has also proven to be a threat time and time again. Add to the mix star ’keeper Jan Oblak from Atletico Madrid and Slovenia will be a tough opponent in a must-win game.

This past Thursday, Israel hosted North Macedonia at Turner Stadium in Beersheba and played to a disappointing draw. Zahavi broke a goalless deadlock early on in the second half, but Arijan Ademi found the equalizer minutes later to split the points in front of over 15,000 fans.

“We can’t be disappointed and we have to focus on Slovenia now,” said Israel Sports Director Wili Ruttensteiner to The Jerusalem Post. “There are 5 games to play in qualifying and we have to be very positive and come back to try to win again.”

Zahavi, Israel’s goal scoring threat knows full well how important the game against Slovenia will be as his side’s Euro hopes hinge on this upcoming contest.

“In order to advance to the next stage we have to be able to hold on to a 1-0 lead and we didn’t do that at home. We now have to go into Slovenia strong and play like maniacs in order to earn points in Ljubljana. If we take the three points, everyone will forget about the game against North Macedonia and that’s our goal.”

At the end of the day, Solomon was blunt and to the point as to what Israel must do.

“We have to take three points in Slovenia,” he said.

The blue-and-white came into the game against North Macedonia with much concern over who would be the starting goalkeeper. Ariel Harush, Herzog’s first choice netminder to date, had yet to play for his domestic league team Sparta Rotterdam, while Ofir Marciano, who ultimately did get the nod, had a recent run of poor performances with Hibernians. As well, Zahavi entered the game a bit banged up while striker Monas Dabbur hasn’t yet played for La Liga side Sevilla and defender Eli Dasa was still without a club.

Natcho had Israel’s first chance of the contest in the fifth minute when his off-balance low liner was taken care of by Macedonia ’keeper Stole Dimitrievski while Ofir Marciano parried away an Enis Bardi free kick soon thereafter.

Following a disallowed Dabbur goal, Bardi launched a rocket towards the Israel goal, but Marciano was up to the task as he leaped into the air to tip the ball out to safety in the 27th minute. Three minutes later Eqzijan Alioski led a counter attack down the pitch but his laser just missed the target as Macedonia began to threaten the Israeli goal.

With the blue-and-white buzzing around the visitors goal in the second half, youngster Solomon made his way past a number of defenders, sent a sharp cross into the area from the right side directly to an oncoming Zahavi, who roofed the ball into the goal with his left foot to give Israel a 1-0 lead in the 55th minute.

However, less than 10 minutes later, Arijan Ademi headed home a Alioski free kick to draw North Macedonia even with Israel and silence the partisan crowd. Zahavi skillfully launched another missile towards the goal in the 73rd minute, but his scorcher just missed while his former club teammate Dasa tried in vain from the right side to create some offense.

Zahavi once again tried to work his magic as the minutes began to tick off the clock, but the Israeli superstar couldn’t find his second of the contest as the blue-and-white had to settle for a point.


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