Israeli national soccer team meets during practice.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Israel national team coach Eli Gutman did his best to draw some encouragement from his team’s performance in the second half against Belgium on Tuesday night.
However, the bottom line from the blue-and-white’s past two Euro 2016 qualifiers is anything but promising.
Israel’s failure to pick up a point, or even score a goal, in its home matches against Wales and Belgium leaves its chances of qualifying for a first major tournament since the 1970 World Cup in a precarious position, especially considering the difficulty of the remainder of its schedule.
Israel squandered a golden opportunity to kick-start its campaign on Tuesday, suffering a 1-0 defeat to Belgium at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium despite playing with an extra man from the 64th minute.
Gutman’s men were outplayed in a 3-0 defeat to Wales in Haifa on Saturday and were outclassed by Belgium in the first half before the sending off of captain Vincent Kompany shifted the momentum in its favor but not enough to result in an equalizer.
For the first time in 22 years, Israel lost consecutive qualifiers at home, with the last time it failed to score a goal in two straight qualifiers coming over seven years ago.
The blue-and-white, which still sits in third place in Group B with nine points after beating Cyprus, Andorra and Bosnia and Herzegovina in its first three qualifiers, trails both Belgium and Wales by only two points at the midway point of the campaign.
However, it still faces road matches against the group’s leading sides Belgium, Wales and Bosnia and will in all likelihood need to pick up some points from those contests to finish in the top three, with home wins over Cyprus and Andorra in its two other remaining games unlikely to prove sufficient.
The top two in each group qualify automatically along with the best third-place finisher, while the remaining eight third-place teams go into a playoff for four more berths.
Israel’s next qualifier could very well prove to be the most important of the campaign, with the national team visiting Bosnia in Sarajevo on June 12.
Assuming it goes on to win its home matches against Cyprus and Andorra, a draw in Sarajevo is expected to be enough to finish in third place, even with defeats at Wales and Belgium.
However, in order to finish in the top two and qualify automatically for Euro 2016, Israel will likely have to win at least one of its three difficult road games ahead, something Gutman believes is possible.
“If we don’t pick up points in Bosnia or Wales, we don’t have much of a chance, and that is our goal,” admitted Gutman.
“We need to enter those matches as an underdog the way we did against Belgium.
We need to forget about any chance of us being the favorite the way some thought we were against Wales. I never bought it, but even if one player does, it has an effect.
“We didn’t deserve to lose to Belgium,” added Gutman. “We played against a team ranked No. 4 in the world and we controlled the second half. This match gives me confidence. We have one point fewer than I hoped we would at this stage, but I believe we will make up for it in the remainder of the campaign.”