Israel Croatia 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Just over 4,000 fans bothered to attend the international friendly at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Wednesday night, to watch Israel defeat Belarus 2-1.
The embarrassing attendance, in a match to which entrance was free, is further proof of how much the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign has distanced the blue-and-white supporters from their national team. The television ratings of Israel's matches in this campaign have been the lowest in many years and the fans showed their discontent with the way Dror Kashtan's team has been playing once more on Wednesday, by not bothering to show up. On Friday, more than 12,000 fans attended the Under-21 team's match against Germany at Ramat Gan.
Israel lost all hope of qualifying for the European Championships on Saturday, losing 1-0 to Croatia in Zagreb. The team is currently fourth in Group E with 17 points from 10 matches. The national team completes its qualifying campaign next month when it hosts Russia and Macedonia on November 17 and 21, respectively.
Israel was mediocre at best on Wednesday against a Belarus team which has lost seven of its 10 Euro 2008 qualifiers to date. Betar Jerusalem midfielders Aviram Bruchian and Gal Alberman scored for the national team in the 37th and 72nd minutes, respectively, with Maksim Romashchenko leveling the score briefly with a goal in the 68th minute.
Kashtan made two changes from the team that started against Croatia. Omer Golan and Ben Sahar replaced captain Yossi Benayoun, who returned to Liverpool, and Pini Balili, who was relegated to the substitutes bench.
Israel, which lost 2-1 in a friendly in Belarus less than two months ago, pushed for a goal right from the kickoff and almost took the lead in the second minute after Golan released a good shot that was well saved by keeper Yuri Zhevnov. The Maccabi Petah Tikva striker came close once more eight minutes later, spinning in the box and curling a shot just right of the Belarus goal.
The visitors, who lost 1-0 to Luxemburg on Saturday, reached their best chance of the first half in the 13th minute when Sergei Omelyanchuk blasted the ball wide of Nir Davidovitch's left post.
Israel finally got the breakthrough in the 37th minute, thanks to some clinical finishing by Bruchian. The Betar Jerusalem player, who made his debut for the blue-and-white against Croatia, picked up a loose ball on the edge of the area and elegantly slotted the ball beyond the Belarus keeper.
The visitors seized control of the match in the second half and got a well deserved equalizer in the 68th minute. Romashchenko was at the end of a good team move and beat Liran Shtrauber with ease.
The hosts would, however, soon regain their lead when Alberman pounced on a rebound from an Elyaniv Barda shot in the 72nd minute to score his first goal and the winner for the national team.