The national team's inability to post a single convincing win during the World Cup qualifying campaign cost it a spot in the playoffs. After France defeated Cyprus 4-0 and Switzerland drew 0-0 at Ireland in Wednesday night's final games, coach Avraham Grant's side finished third in Group Four even though it had the same amount of points as the runner-up.
Both Switzerland and Israel won four games and drew six during the qualifying to amass 18 points. However, the Swiss, who scored 18 goals during their 10 games and only allowed seven, advanced to the playoff with a better goal difference than Israel, which netted 15 and allowed 10. Ultimately the difference proved to be the games against Cyprus and the Faroe Islands, the only two teams that Israel and Switzerland defeated.
The Swiss outscored the Faroese 9-1 and the Cypriots 4-1, while Israel totaled a 4-1 scoreline in two games against the Faroese and 4-2 against Cyprus.
Heading into its last game on Saturday night against the Faroe Islands, Israel knew that a victory by a seven-goal margin would be enough to overtake Switzerland in the event of a draw in Dublin on Wednesday. Yet even though Yossi Benayoun put Israel ahead in the first minute, the hosts struggled to add to the lead and wound up winning just 2-1.
Interestingly, had the September 7 game between France and Ireland finished in a draw (France won 1-0 on a Thierry Henry strike in the 68th minute), the top teams would have wound up in a four-way tie for first place and Israel would have qualified automatically for the World Cup in Germany via the tiebreaker.
Now the blue-and-white squad will be idle until September 2006, when it begins its next qualifying campaign for the 2008 European Championships.
In the coming days/weeks, the Israel Football Association will need to decide whether to extend Grant's contract for that campaign. The topic has become a hot one at the IFA, with Grant supporters and detractors set in their beliefs.
The players have also been involved. Although most have publicly spoken in favor of Grant, a column by striker Pini Balili in Yediot Aharonot attacking his coach and vowing not to play for Israel again under Grant has made waves.
In response, IFA chairman Itche Menahem said that any player to speak about the coaching position - either in favor of or against Grant continuing - would answer to a disciplinary committee.
Domenech confident of French success at World Cup
Now that France coach Raymond Domenech got his team to the World Cup, he believes he can win it.
"Winning for me is realistic," Domenech said Thursday. "Thinking of the quarterfinals is defeatist. We can win, we will do everything to do so. It's essential to be mentally strong."
France labored through its qualifying program, with three straight 0-0 draws against Israel, Ireland and Switzerland. Domenech persuaded Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram and Claude Makelele to end their international retirements and aid France.
"We had some difficult moments, but in a way that only proves how solid the players are," he said. "They never gave up. We finished top of the group."
Zidane, Sylvain Wiltord, Vikash Dhorasoo and Ludovic Giuly all scored Wednesday to help France qualify.
Zidane scored the first goal in the 28th minute with his 28th international goal. Wiltord scored in the 32nd and Dhorasoo added another in the 44th.
Zidane created the fourth goal for Giuly in the 84th.
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