Israel soccer 224.88.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel got the better of the elements and its opponent on Wednesday night, defeating Macedonia 1-0 in a rain drenched National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
Under a persistent downpour, the national team signed off its Euro 2008 qualifying campaign with its seventh victory in 12 matches and will enter Sunday's 2010 World Cup qualifying draw in a confident mood.
Scoring opportunities were at a premium on Wednesday, with Elyaniv Barda scoring the only goal of the match in the 35th minute. The 2,736 Israel fans that braved the stormy weather were hoping the first goal would open the floodgates. But it wasn't to be. The second half was a largely dreary affair in which the blue-and-white came nowhere near to scoring.
"We didn't play very well tonight, but we still managed to win the match," Israel coach Dror Kashtan said after the game. "We had a 64 percent success rate in this campaign and I'm very pleased with that.
It wasn't enough to get us to the European Championships, but we have managed to introduce some youngsters to the side. The most important thing now is continuity. The team did well in its last three matches and we need to build on that in our next campaign. We will now be in the third ranking group in the 2010 draw and we will only face two superior teams, which gives us a better chance to qualify."
Macedonia defeated Croatia 2-0 at Skopje thanks to two late goals on Saturday, but has now lost to Israel both home and away.
"I don't think the Israeli team was so much better than us, but the one goal was enough for them to win the game," Macedonia coach Srecko Katanec said after the match.
Neither team managed to create any kind of scoring opportunities at the start of the match, with Macedonia's Vlatko Grozdanovski registering the first shot towards goal in the 15th minute.
Israel recorded its first shot on goal nine minutes later after Maor Buzaglo spoiled Roberto Colautti's good build-up play, shooting straight at the visiting 'keeper Peter Milosevski.
Two minutes later Colautti wrestled the ball off Milosevski on the edge of the area, but he failed to find a teammate with his cross and squandered a golden opportunity.
In the 35th minute, however, Israel would finally get the breakthrough. An excellent team move was finishes off by Barda, who headed in Yuval Shpungin's accurate cross.
The blue-and-white needed 25 minutes to register their first shot on goal in the second half, with substitute Ben Sahar shooting straight at the Macedonian keeper. One minute later the visitors were centimeters away from scoring the equalizer when Nikolce Noveski hit the post from two meters out.
Sahar had two more late chances to double Israel's lead, but his weak shots were comfortably collected by Milosevski and the hosts won by the smallest of margins.
"We didn't play well, but it wasn't easy in this weather," said goalkeeper Dudu Awat, who got his fourth clean sheet of the campaign on Wednesday. "We have made progress in this campaign, but there's still a lingering feeling that we could have done better. A home win against Croatia would have made all the difference.
"The team is full of young, talented players and we are ready to embark on a new campaign. I think 40 years without qualifying for the World Cup is too much for a country like Israel."
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