Israel national team players Ofir Martziano (left), Eran Zahavi (center) and Eitan Tibi (right) couldn’t hide their disappointment.
(photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
Israel’s hopes of reaching Euro 2016 look to be as good as over after suffering a surprise 2-1 defeat to Cyprus at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on Saturday night.
The blue-and-white will have to beat group leader Belgium in Brussels in its final Group B match on Tuesday to have any chance of finishing in third place after a desperately disappointing loss to the Cypriots, who other than beating Andorra twice, had lost five of six games.
However, the national team deserved no better with its meek performance on Saturday, with Nir Bitton’s sensational strike in the 76th minute canceling out Dossa Junior’s opener 16 minutes earlier, only for Jason Demetriou to make the most of Israel’s reckless defending to score the winner with 10 minutes to play.
Israel’s only chance to finish in third place and qualify for the playoffs is to register a stunning win over Belgium on the road while hope that Bosnia-Herzegovina doesn’t beat Cyprus on Tuesday. Any other combination of results will mean Israel will have to wait at least two more years to end its major tournament drought which began in 1970.
Despite the security situation in Jerusalem, over 25,000 fans came to cheer the national team at Teddy, only to return home dejected after yet another blue-andwhite failure.
Belgium will have only pride to play for on Tuesday after securing their qualification on Saturday with a 4-1 victory at Andorra. Radja Nainggolan (19), Kevin De Bruyne (42), Eden Hazard (56) and Laurent Depoitre (64) scored for Belgium, with Ildefons Lima (51) netting for Andorra.
Bosnia is the favorite to finish in third place after beating Wales 2-0.
Milan Djuric (71) and Vedad Ibišević (90) scored for Bosnia.
Nevertheless, Wales also secured its place in next summer’s European Championships.
Any illusion the hosts may have had of registering an easy win was over as early as the second minute, with the Cypriots reaching the first scoring opportunity of the match. George Efrem found space in the box, but his shot was not good enough to beat goalkeeper Ofir Martziano.
The ‘keeper has lost his place at Belgian club Mouscron-Peruwelz, but coach Eli Gutman’s decision to keep faith with Martziano was proven correct in the 25th minute.
Efrem once more cut in from the left flank and his attempt was making its way into the bottom right corner before Martziano pushed it just wide of the upright.
Israel only recorded one decent chance in the first half, with Gili Vermouth’s shot going centimeters wide of the post after 12 minutes.
The blue-and-white began to lose its way as the half progressed, with Cyprus goalkeeper Antonis Giorgallides virtually out of work in the half.
It took 10 minutes for Israel to test Giorgallides in the second half, but Eran Zahavi’s shot from the edge of the box was easily collected by the Cypriot stopper.
Tal Ben-Haim squandered a golden opportunity moments later, firing into the side netting.
The cost of the miss was accentuated two minutes later when Cyprus took the lead. The Israel defense couldn’t deal with Vincent Laban’s free-kick and Dossa Junior headed in the opener.
Matters went from bad to worse with the news that Milan Djuric had given Bosnia the lead in Zenica. However, the introduction of Maor Melikson and Tomer Hemed from the bench seemed to revive the blue-and-white and Bitton’s sensational strike from 20 meters out in the 76th minute leveled the score.
Israel sent everyone forward in search of a winner, but its careless play would cost it dearly at the other end. Demetriou had plenty of time and space in the Israel box to fire into the roof of the net and give Cyprus a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.