Israel soccer 224.88.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel regained a large amount of its pride on Saturday night and did England a massive favor, defeating Russia 2-1 at the National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
After two humiliating performances in its previous Euro 2008 qualifiers against Croatia and England, the national team showed on Saturday that its future may not be so bleak after all and that there are plenty of reasons for optimism ahead of the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.
The outstanding win may have come a few months too late for the national team's qualifying campaign, but it came in timely fashion for England.
Russia would have all but progressed to the European Championships with victory on Saturday. However, England's fate is now back in its own hands and should the Three Lions win or draw against Croatia on Wednesday they will advance to the tournament in Austria and Switzerland.
The blue-and-white's win also ensured that Croatia will be in Euro 2008, despite its 2-0 loss to Macedonia on Saturday night.
The only blemish on the game was that the police arrested a 17-year-old boy carrying a firecracker.
Israel was one goal up at the break after an excellent first half, with Elyaniv Barda elegantly chipping the ball over the Russian keeper in the 10th minute. The Russian's picked up their play in the second half and got a deserved equalizer in the 61st minute. Goalkeeper Dudu Awat could do nothing against Diniyar Bilyaletdinov's powerful shot and the match was set for a scintillating ending.
In the 90th minute the visitors were centimeters away from the European Championships after Dmitri Sychev hit the post. Israel, however, would snatch an unlikely victory a minute later. Golan stole the ball from the Russian defense and scored the stunning winner.
"We saw a young, fresh and hungry Israel team that has a bright future ahead of it," Israel coach Dror Kashtan said. "The players played superbly in a highly charged match that all of Europe was watching. I don't think anybody owes us any sort of gratitude. We are committed to our national team and we concentrate on our own needs and not anybody else's."
After a quiet start to the match Israel exploded into life in the 10th minute. A great break forward was clumsily finished off by Barak Itzhaki, who hit a poor shot from the center of the box. Only seconds later, however, Itzhaki more than made up for his miss with an exquisite through ball that would set up Barda for Israel's opener.
Itzhaki pass split the Russian defense in two and the move was coolly finished by Barda.
In the 21st minute, Itzhaki was only centimeters away from doubling the hosts lead. The Betar Jerusalem forward failed to connect with Maor Buzaglo's free kick and the cross turned shot sailed just wide of the visitors' goal.
Russia began to find its footing as the match progressed. In the 23rd minute Bilyaletdinov registered two dangerous shots within one minute. Both left footed shots just missed Awat's goal and the hosts maintained their slender lead.
Israel's youthful attack was a constant menace to the visitors' defense and the team wasn't far from a two goal lead at the break. Ben Sahar wrestled his way past the Russian defense and released a powerful shot from 25 meters out that was well collected by keeper Vladimir Gabulov.
The visitors recorded their best chance of the first half seven minutes before the interval, with Aleksandr Aniukov hitting the side netting from a tight angle.
Russia gradually seized control of the match in the second half and came ever closer to the equalizer. Six minutes after the break Andrei Arshavin found space in the blue-and-white's box, but sent his header high above Awat's goal. In the 58th minute, Bilyaletdinov struck a thunderous shot that was saved by Awat and three minutes later he would finally tie the score. The midfielder had plenty of time in the Israel box and blasted the ball into the net.
The Russians were desperate for the winner and came agonizingly close to scoring their second goal in the 73rd minute. Sychev's left footed bullet from 20 meters had beaten Awat, but the ball went wide of the left post.
Despite being outplayed throughout the entire second half, Israel registered the next good shot towards goal. Gal Alberman's back-heel would have made a fantastic winner, but his shot missed the target.
The visitors would have one final chance to claim the precious three points in the 90th minute. Arshavin put through Sychev, but his shot went out off the post to the relief of the Israelis and English alike.
One minute into stoppage time Golan's hustling gave the hosts a memorable win. Golan stole the ball from defender Sergei Ignashevich and after exchanging passes with Barda, slotted the ball under the Russian keeper.
"We are very, very disappointed. We were close. We dominated the game, but if you can't convert your domination then you won't win the game," Russia's Dutch coach Guus Hiddink said. "We gave away the first goal and that made the game much more difficult. In the second half we were close to the win, but unfortunately Sychev hit the post."
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