(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Despite dropping to a record-equaling fourth consecutive defeat in 2018 World Cup qualifying and failing to score a goal for a third straight match, Israel coach Elisha Levy insisted that his players regained their pride in Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to Italy in Reggio Emilia.
The last, and only time, Israel lost four qualifiers in a row since joining UEFA in 1992 was at the start of its 1994 World Cup qualifying campaign. After mainly playing in Oceania and Asia, the blue-and-white needed time to adjust to European opponents, losing its first four qualifiers against Austria, Sweden, Bulgaria and France by a combined goal difference of 14-3.
Up until Tuesday’s defeat in Italy, it had managed to avoid stringing together a losing streak of that length in 11 qualifying campaigns for the World Cup and European Championships.
Considering Israel had already hit rock bottom with Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Macedonia in Haifa, which came on the back of a 4-1 thrashing in Spain and a humiliating 3-0 home defeat to Albania, it is no surprise Levy saw the 1-0 loss at powerhouse Italy as a respectable score-line.
Israel’s players certainly showed some fight in Reggio Emilia, but they were nevertheless outplayed, with Italy registering 30 attempts at goal to the blue-and-white’s five and unlucky to only win by a single goal scored by Ciro Immobile in the 53rd minute.
“We regained the national team’s pride. This is how I want to see the national team play,” said Levy. “We defended well and it is a shame we didn’t get more out of this match. The players were excellent and people can be proud of the team’s performance.”
The national team wraps up its campaign next month, visiting Liechtenstein on October 6 and then hosting Spain at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on October 9.
Levy’s contract will not be extended for Euro 2020 qualifying, with Bnei Yehuda coach Yossi Abuksis the early favorite to be named as his successor.
The Israel squad will also likely have a different look under the next coach, with the blue-andwhite currently registering a 37.5 percent success rate in Group G of 2018 World Cup qualifying, its worse since the 1994 World Cup campaign when it won only one of 10 matches.
One of the players who could be making his final appearances for the national team next month is Yossi Benayoun. The 37-year-old became the first player to reach 100 caps for Israel after coming on as a substitute against Italy.
“I’m happy to have reached this personal milestone. It isn’t easy to remain part of the national team for so many years,” said Benayoun.
The Beitar Jerusalem midfielder also addressed the absence of Eran Zahavi, who retired from the Israel national team on Sunday amid the armband scandal.
“It is a shame we reached this situation. We really miss Eran. It all started with the booing which is something that can only happen in our country. I’d like to be part of the squad next month, but I don’t know what will happen after that.''