Albania’s Taulant Xhaka (right) celebrates after scoring the lone goal in his side’s 1-0 home victory over Israel on Friday night in the opening match for both countries in the group stage of the inaugural UEFA Nations League competition .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A new coaching staff, new uniforms, but the same old result.
The Israel national team kicked off its UEFA Nations League campaign on Friday night under the guidance of debutee Andreas Herzog with a disappointing 1-0 loss to Albania in Elbasan, hampering its hopes of qualifying for Euro 2020.
The blue-and-white had 13 shots on goal, outplayed the host during many stages of the match and had plenty of scoring chances, but lacked the finishing touch.
Albania’s Taulant Xhaka notched the winning tally at the start of the second half, in the 55th minute, and sent Israel into Rosh Hashanah with a feeling of what-could-have been.
Israel now essentially faces a must-win mission next month when it hosts Scotland in its second game in Group C1.
Herzog, who started Eran Zahavi and Moanes Dabour up front, received excellent teamwork from the two in the first half. Zahavi was very close to hitting the back of the net twice, and at one point even got past ’keeper Thomas Strakosha, but stumbled in front of an open goal.
Earlier Beram Kayal found himself alone in front of the Lazio netminder, but failed in giving Israel the lead and the sides went into the break knotted at 0-0.
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Two minutes into the second half, Zahavi was replaced by Tomer Hemed and Israel lost the harmony and balance in its game.
Albania took advantage and began to put pressure on Guy Haimov’s goal, and eventually it was Xhaka’s 20-meter strike that stymied the Haifa goalkeeper.
Herzog tried to make offensive changes when he moved to four defense players, and brought in Manor Solomon and Dor Micha, but the result remained until the end.
Still, since it’s about the opening of a campaign with a coach who does not really know his players yet, this loss should be treated mercy.
Blue-and-white fans can also look at the positives, such as Haimov, Dabour, Dor Peretz and Taleb Tawatha.
On the other hand, many of the problems seen in Israel’s previous failed campaigns returned, particularly too much space given to the opponent’s attacking players.
In the end, Israel was defeated based on small things details and now must look forward with the knowledge that it has plenty of work to do to compete with Europe’s best.
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