Israel's defense preparing for a free kick against Portugal.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel may have officially lost all hope of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup on Friday night, but the national team’s 1-1 draw against Portugal in Lisbon will still be remembered as one of the highlights of its campaign.
The blue-and-white had effectively lost any chance of reaching a first World Cup in 44 years following last month’s draw versus Azerbaijan and defeat at Russia. It seemed to be heading towards another loss in Lisbon on Friday, with Portugal outplaying Israel for much of the encounter.
However, Ricardo Costa’s 26th-minute opener was canceled out by Eden Ben-Basat’s equalizer in the 85th minute, with Portuguese goalkeeper Rui Patricio gifting the Israeli striker the goal with a woefully wayward clearance.
The draw also guaranteed Israel will end Group F in third place and could go a long way to ensuring coach Eli Gutman is handed a contract extension following the team’s final qualifier against Northern Ireland at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Tuesday.
“I’m not celebrating because we didn’t win,” said a composed Gutman following the final whistle. “In retrospect I still feel that we missed a chance to end the group in second place. And that happened because we didn’t cope well with the pressure, which was also the case in the first half against Portugal.
I told the players to go out and enjoy themselves in the second half and we saw an Israel team that wanted to win the match. A 1-1 draw in Portugal is a very nice result.”
Much-maligned goalkeeper Dudu Aouate was understandably delighted with his display against Portugal after the recent criticism he was forced to endure.
“We are very pleased with the draw,” said Aouate. “Portugal needed the points but we played a brilliant match.
Portugal was superior in the first half, but we improved after the break.
Clearly we were lucky towards the end, but had we been more composed we possibly could have even won.”
The Portuguese couldn’t hide their frustration from the draw that essentially ended their chances of leapfrogging Russia and finishing the group in first place.
Cristiano Ronaldo criticized Portugal’s display in the stalemate and also took aim at Israel’s defensive tactics on Friday.
“We have to improve in many aspects,” he said. “Israel had two buses behind the ball and when it’s like that it’s hard to score."
“We were apathetic in the second half, looked sleepy even, and things did not go well. We lacked a bit of maturity at times, maybe it was because we had a young team with a lot of changes.”
The Real Madrid superstar was tight-lipped on claims he deliberately got himself booked to ensure his availability for next month’s World Cup qualifying playoffs.
Ronaldo will miss the last qualifier at home to rock-bottom Luxembourg on Tuesday through suspension after receiving a yellow card for protesting in the dying minutes against Israel.
“I can’t talk about that [booking],” Ronaldo told reporters. “FIFA is always very attentive to those situations,” he added, referring to soccer’s ruling body.
“The playoff is the most important and I don’t want to be out. I will be at those two matches.”
Israel improved to 13 points from nine matches, five behind Portugal and five ahead of Azerbaijan.
“Our second half was worse than the first, we dominated but did not create many chances,” Portugal coach Paulo Bento told local radio.
“We struggled to pass the ball around and were imprecise at times but were penalized by one mistake in the end.”
The Portuguese dominated throughout, allowing Israel only the occasional counter but were punished in the end for their shortcomings in attack despite boasting the skills of the likes of Ronaldo and Nani.
With usual first pick Helder Postiga suspended, Hugo Almeida spearheaded Portugal’s attack but the tall striker rarely threatened. Almeida missed a header from a good position and had another disallowed for offside in the second period.
Portugal was forced to deploy an untried back four but Bento’s choices duly delivered as it was a passage of play between defenders that broke the deadlock midway through the first half.
Pepe pounced on a cross from left back Antunes and sent the ball to fellow center back Ricardo Costa to fire in from close range.
Ben-Basat was Israel’s most dangerous player throughout the night, wasting two good chances before scoring.
First, he sent a diagonal shot just wide in the first half and then fired a tame shot from a good position after a quick counter in the second.
Ben-Basat made no mistake five minutes from time when Patricio miskicked a pass that landed right at his feet, coolly chipping over as the Portugal ‘keeper looked up in horror.
Captain Ronaldo had a venomous free kick saved by Aouate in the dying minutes but it was too late for the hosts to sneak a win.
Reuters contributed to this report.