Israel forward Eran Zahavi .
(photo credit: MAOR ELKASLASI)
Israel forward Eran Zahavi more than rose to the occasion on Sunday night at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, with a hat-trick to lead the blue-and-white to a 4-2 victory over visiting Austria in an entertaining Euro 2020 qualifier.
After Marko Arnautovic gave the Austrians a 1-0 lead in the eighth minute, Zahavi equalized for the Israelis in the 34th minute and, in the waning moments of the first half, gave the hosts a 2-1 advantage and turned the momentum of the contest in favor of the blue-and-white.
After the break, Israel dominated possession and Zahavi completed his marvelous scoring display with a third goal in the 55th minute.
“Let's see what everyone says now, especially those who felt the national team no longer needed me," said Zahavi after the match." It's a bit hypocritical because we have to support the players. It may be funny, but throwing the film was the best thing that happened to the Israeli national team, everyone got a nose and learned from it."
"It was the biggest game of my career and I'm excited I was able to help the national team," he added. “We started off slowly, we really just needed something to light a fire under us and I am glad I was able to do that.”
Moanes Dabour increased the lead to 4-1 before Arnautovic netted his second tally of the night to close out the scoring in the 75th minute.
The result gave blue-and-white coach Andreas Herzog a victory over his homeland, and Israel’s first victory over Austria since 1999.
Herzog was also elated with the result.
“Obviously this was not just a regular game for me,” Israel’s Austrian coach said. "In the first half, Austria was better than us. Ariel Harush made a number of unbelievable saves to keep us in the match early. I want to thank the fans and especially my players, I'm proud of them.”
On Zahavi’s perforamance, Herzog said: "I do not have words to describe how important he was for us tonight. Although Eran and Moanes starred, it was a collective effort of everyone on the team."
At the end of the game, Israel sat second in Group G with four points from its first two qualification matches, with Poland atop the group, having taken all six points from both matches. The Israelis will visit Latvia on June 7 in its next qualifier.
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