Wales’ Gareth Bale celebrates scoring a goal against Israel during their Euro 2016 Group B qualifying soccer match at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Israel national team was brought back down to earth in painful fashion on Saturday night, suffering a serious blow to its hopes of qualifying for Euro 2016 with a humbling 3-0 defeat to Wales at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa.
The blue-and-white entered the match top of Group B with a perfect nine points from three matches and was bursting with confidence of moving one step closer to qualifying for a first major tournament since the 1970 World Cup.
However, Israel was outplayed from start to finish on Saturday, with Wales superstar Gareth Bale terrorizing the hosts at will on the way to two goals and another assist.
Israel coach Eli Gutman made just two changes to the lineup which beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-0 in November, but it quickly became apparent what a difference four months can make.
The hosts were on the back foot throughout the first half, but seemed set to hold on until the interval, only to concede in stoppage time through Aaron Ramsey. The Israel defense couldn’t deal with a Wales goal kick and the Arsenal midfielder headed the ball over a helpless Ofir Martziano.
The contest was as good as over six minutes into the second half. Bale scored with an unstoppable free-kick from the edge of the box in the 50th minute after being brought down by Eitan Tibi and Israel found itself with 10 men just a minute later. Tibi was shown a second yellow card after tripping the Real Madrid phenom once more and the rest of the match was no more than garbage time. Bale completed the rout in the 77th minute and the hosts were fortunate not to suffer a heavier defeat, failing to even register a first shot on target until the 83rd minute when the game was long over.
As if the loss wasn’t bad enough, Israel now faces the prospect of playing group-favorite Belgium at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on Tuesday, an extremely tough tie at any time, not to mention on the back of a crushing setback.
Israel will also have to manage without its top scorer Omer Damari, who hobbled off the pitch late in the first half with a groin injury.
Wales leapfrogged Israel with Saturday’s result, climbing up to first place in the group with 11 points from five matches, while Israel remained on nine points from four games.
Israel coach Gutman did his best to remain optimistic following the loss, but couldn’t hide his disappointment.
“This is heartbreaking, but this can happen in soccer,” said Gutman.
“We will regroup and fight until the very end of the campaign. We have another match coming up on Tuesday and it is some match.”
Gutman conceded his team deserved to lose, but continued to back his players.
“They fought and gave their all,” he said. “I will talk to the players and tell them I’m behind them. I hoped we would look better as a team, but we couldn’t find a solution for Wales tonight. They were the better team and deserved to win.”