(photo credit: AP)
Israel's national soccer team opened its Euro 2008 qualification campaign with a 1-0 victory over Estonia Saturday night in Tallinn.
The only goal of the match was scored after seven minutes by Roberto Colautti, who only got approval from European soccer's governing body to play for Israel three days prior to the match. The Argentinian forward had been waiting for UEFA to approve his Israeli residency status paperwork for the last few months and thanks to last minute efforts by the Israel Football Association was available for the match.
Despite winning his first official match in charge, Israel coach Dror Kashtan will not be pleased with the form he saw from his team. Israel was dominated by the Estonians for most of the match and was never really close to doubling its lead. Israel next plays Andorra in a "home" match in Nijmegen, Netherlands, on Wednesday night and will have to win to maintain any hopes of qualifying for Euro 2008.
The two top teams in the group, which also includes England, Russia, Croatia and Macedonia, will advance automatically to the European Championships.
Israel got off to a positive start thanks to ever dependent playmaker Yossi Benayoun. The West Ham United midfielder raced unchallenged through the hosts' defense and after his left footed shot was fumbled by Estonian goalkeeper Mart Poom, Colautti pounced and gave Israel the lead.
10 minutes later, Estonian forward Anders Oper had a great chance to equalize. Oper was all alone in the Israeli box but failed to get his shot off on time and defender Shimon Gershon blocked the ball.
The hosts continued to dominate possession and four minutes later were only denied by goalkeeper Dudu Awat. Alexander Dmitrijev hit a powerful shot from the edge of the area. However, Awat, who was starting for the national team for the first time since June of last year, was well positioned and saved the ball.
In the 24th minute, Estonia had its best chance of the half when Awat spilled a powerful free kick and Kristen Viikmae failed to score from the rebound from five meters out.
Estonia controlled the play almost for the entire first half and Israel never came close to scoring again after going ahead.
The second half began much like the first with the hosts once again dictating the play but lacking a cutting edge in front of goal.
Six minutes after the interval, Colautti came close to scoring his second goal. However, his 20-meter shot went just wide of the goal.
Israel continued to try and surprise the Estonians on the break, but Michael Zandberg wasted an opportunity in the 55th minute when his shot went straight into the hands of Poom.
Four minutes later, Tarmo Neemelo almost got an equalizer for the hosts when he had a free header in the Israeli box, but his attempt went high.
Oper had one more chance to get a point for the hosts but Awat saved his shot in injury time and secured Israel's win.