(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel’s dreams of reaching Euro 2012 suffered a significant blow on Saturday
night after a 2-1 loss to Croatia at National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
national team entered the match tied with Croatia at the top of Group F with
four points, but its mediocre performances against Malta and Georgia in its
first two qualifiers raised plenty of reasons for concern, and Luis Fernandez’s
men were simply not good enough on Saturday.
The Croats were far from
brilliant, but they came to Ramat Gan with a meticulous game plan and executed
The blue-and-white got the match off to a vibrant start and
reached a couple of opportunities. However, the visitors were content on sitting
back and hitting the hosts on the break, and unlike Israel, they made the most
of their chances.
A Niko Kranjcar penalty in the 36th minute gave Croatia
the all-crucial breakthrough and five minutes later the Tottenham midfielder
doubled the visitors’ lead to all but end Israel’s hopes before the
Itai Shechter’s goal in the 81st minute ensured an exciting final
few minutes, but Israel never came close to equalizing and taking a point it
“This is very disappointing,” said Israel goalkeeper Dudu
Aouate, who wore the captain’s armband in the absence of the injured Yossi
Benayoun. “We played well until we conceded the first goal, and the second goal
broke our spirit. We had some good minutes, but we are disappointed.
will now have to win on the road.”
Next up for Israel is a road match in
Greece on Tuesday night. A victory in Athens would give the national team
renewed hope of qualifying for a first major tournament since 1970, but a far
more likely defeat would virtually finish the blue-and-white’s hopes of reaching
The hosts got off to a bright start on Saturday, registering
their first chance after just 39 seconds.
Almog Cohen stole the ball at
the center of the field and sent through Shechter, whose clever shot from
outside the box was tipped over the crossbar by ’keeper Vedran
Israel was pressuring Croatia across the field, but the visitors
broke down the blue-andwhite’s formation with short passes and it wasn’t long
before the Croats threatened Aouate’s goal.
Israel had the woodwork to
thank in the seventh minute after Ivan Rakitic’s shot from 20 meters out left
Despite Rakitic’s close call, Israel had the better of
the early proceedings and it had its chances to take the lead.
13th minute, a superb solo effort by Shechter ended with the Hapoel Tel Aviv
striker having his attempt saved by Runje. Yoav Ziv squandered an excellent
opportunity just one minute later when he only had the ’keeper to beat, but shot
straight at the RC Lens stopper.
Israel proved the Croatia defense had
its vulnerabilities, but it didn’t convert its chances and it would pay
The Croats began to dominate the possession as the match
progressed and it was only a matter of time until Aouate was
Kranjcar was causing most of the trouble and he would be the one
to get the opener.
Referee Wolfgang Stark spotted Dekel Keinan pulling
down Josip Simunic in the box and Kranjcer stepped up to smash Croatia into the
lead nine minutes from the break.
Five minutes later, the match was as
good as over.
A nice team move ended with Luka Modric sliding the ball
through to Kranjcer, who subsequently slotted the ball past Aouate to give
Croatia a halftime lead it was never going to relinquish.
the hosts some hope when he clinically finished a nice solo effort to bring
Israel within a goal, but it was too little too late and the blue-and-white
dropped to a defeat which seriously complicates its situation in Group F.