ISRAEL MIDFIELDER Lior Refaelov (left) challenges Miguel Layun of Mexico (center) as blue-and-white defender Sheran Yeini (13) looks on during Wednesday night’s international friendly at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, won 3-0 by the hosts..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
One of Israel’s biggest vulnerabilities was exposed for all to see on Wednesday night in Mexico City after a disastrous performance by goalkeeper Ariel Harush saw the blue-and-white fall to a 3-0 defeat to Mexico in an international friendly a t the Azteca Stadium.
Israel coach Eli Gutman chose not to call up the 36-year-old Dudu Aouate for the friendlies against Mexico and Honduras, which will be played on Sunday, after he lost his place in goal for RCD Mallorca of the Spanish second division, making just five appearances all season.
Aouate started every one of Israel’s qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup, Euro 2012 and the 2010 World Cup.
Harush, who plays for Beitar Jerusalem, was selected by Gutman to succeed Aouate as the blue-and-white’s new number one ’keeper, but his chances of remaining Israel’s starting stopper on a full-time basis suffered a major blow in Mexico after he gifted the hosts their first two goals.
Israel contained Mexico for much of the first half, but one minute from the break Harush parried Miguel Layun’s powerful long-range effort into the back of his own net despite being perfectly placed to collect the shot.
Mexico doubled its advantage in the 62nd minute, with Layun once more firing from distance and Harush yet again getting his hand to the ball, only to loop it into the goal.
Yossi Benayoun came on in place of Eran Zahavi in the 65th minute to make his 95th appearance for the national team, breaking the previous record he had held together with current assistant coach Arik Benado.
However, Israel still didn’t manage to create any significant scoring opportunities and a defensive blunder saw Marco Fabian wrap up the win for Mexico five minutes from time.
“We started the match well,” said Israel coach Gutman.
“The goal we conceded in the 44th minute took the wind out of our sails. This was a tough match against a superior opponent which is preparing for the World Cup.
“Even had we drawn or won, it wouldn’t have meant anything ahead of the Belgium match, so the defeat also doesn’t necessarily mean that we will lose to Belgium.”
Israel returned to its training base in Houston, Texas on Thursday ahead of Sunday’s friendly against Honduras at the local BBVA Stadium, which will be the national team’s final match before it begins its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign against Belgium on September 9.
Israel was drawn into Group B with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, Wales, Cyprus and Andorra, with the qualifiers to be played from September until October, 2015.
The top two teams in each group will automatically qualify for Euro 2016 in France, with the best third-place finisher to also gain direct qualification. The remaining eight third-place teams will take part in playoffs during November 2015.
“Of course, we are disappointed with the result,” said Benayoun. “We began the match well, but unfortunately we conceded a goal from long range and they seized control in the second half. It isn’t pleasant to lose 3-0, but we must remember that we were facing a strong team in front of its home fans.
“For me, this match was a personal landmark. However, I would have preferred that my record-breaking appearance would have come in a match in which the team did better.”
Despite making his first performance for the national team since last August, the 34-year-old Benayoun isn’t content with breaking the record and wants to continue to be part of the Israel squad.
“Being part of the national team has been the most important thing for me throughout my career,” said Benayoun. “I don’t want to stop here.”