Maccabi Tel Aviv star Eran Zahavi scored both of his team’s goals last night – including an injury-time thriller after F c b asel had gone ahead 2-1 late – as the yellow-and-blue rallied for a 2-2 draw in the Champions League playoff first leg in Switzerland. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel national team coach Elisha Levy should call and thank captain Eran Zahavi for his outburst at the end of the blue-and-white’s 2-1 win over Liechtenstein, with his attack on the media deflecting all the attention from the side’s pitifully poor display.
Israel registered its second straight win in 2018 World Cup qualification on Sunday night, but it was fortunate to beat the semi-professional side, avoiding what would have been one of the most humbling results in its history.
The blue-and-white improved to six points in Group G, which was what it realistically expected to get from its first three matches against Italy in Haifa, Macedonia in Skopje and Liechtenstein in Jerusalem.
However, after an impressive display in the opener against Italy, the national team rode its luck to edge Macedonia 2-1 thanks to goalkeeper Dudu Goresh’s penalty save in the fifth minute of stoppage time, before struggling to a win over a Liechtenstein side which had lost its previous six qualifiers stretching back to June 2015 by a combined goal difference of 0-24.
Israel visits Albania in its next qualifier on November 12, a match which could go a long way to determining which team finishes in third place, assuming powerhouses Italy and Spain claim the top two spots as expected.
Only the winners of each group will qualify automatically for Russia 2018, with the eight best runners-up to advance to home-and-away playoffs.
Albania lost 2-0 to Spain on Sunday, with Italy beating Macedonia 3-2 thanks to Ciro Immobile’s winner in the second minute of stoppage time.
Levy bought himself some time with the last two wins, and should Israel also defeat Albania on the road, its recent dejecting displays will look like a distant memory.
In the meantime, Zahavi stole all the headlines after saying that “it is easier to criticize me because I play in China now so all the rats are coming out.”
“I can understand Zahavi’s comments, but that wasn’t the time or place for them,” said Levy, with his star player frustrated at scoring only five goals in 34 appearances for the blue-andwhite.
“He is settling into his role as captain and will learn to become more diplomatic. It isn’t easy to deal with all the criticism, with some of it being scathing, but he is strong and will overcome it.”
Meanwhile, Israel’s under-21 national team beat Albania 4-0 in Petah Tikva on Monday to keep alive its hopes of qualifying for next summer’s European Championships. Shovel Gozlan (18), Omri Altman (42), Oren Bitton (55) and Dor Hugi (70) scored for Marco Balbul’s side, which finished Group 4 in second place.
Only the four best runners-up will advance to the playoffs, meaning Israel requires Serbia or Norway to slip-up on Tuesday in order to progress. Wins for Serbia and Norway will end Israel’s campaign.
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