Israel won its third straight game in the Euro 2012 qualifying round on
Saturday, and its first on foreign soil, defeating Latvia 2-1 at Riga’s Skonto
The blue-and-white’s standing didn’t improve over the weekend,
as Greece won over Malta 3-1 later Saturday and Croatia defeated Georgia 2-1 on
Friday to stay in first and second place in Group F, respectively.
the win ensured that the next slate of qualifiers – September 2 vs Greece and
September 6 in Croatia – will arrive with Israel still in the hunt for a spot in
next year’s tournament.
Luis Fernandez’s squad was not at its very best
throughout Saturday’s match, but it was clearly the more talented and
disciplined side on the field.
Yossi Benayoun scored his first goal for
the national team since last September’s hat trick against Malta, having missed
seven months due to a torn achilles, and a Tal Ben Haim penalty just before
halftime had Israel feeling good about its chances early on.
hosts would get one back through a penalty of their own, and though Israel never
scored again, the second half also belonged to the visitors, and Fernandez can
now turn his attention to those two mammoth matches in September’s first
Maor Buzaglo opened the game with an attempt that came within
inches of becoming one of the competition’s most phenomenal goals.
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dreadful clearance by Latvia goalkeeper Andris Vanins allowed Buzaglo to gather
the ball in near midfield.
The Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder saw that
Vanins was out of position, and launched a 45-yard rocket that glanced off the
right post and out of harm’s way.
The blue-and-white stepped up its
energy after Buzaglo’s attempt, and saw several more opportunities – all of
which culminated much closer to Vanins’s net, but none of which seriously
threatened the Latvian – come its way over the next 10 minutes.
Israel’s early efforts paid off in the 15th minute. Eran Zahavi’s shot from the
corner of the box bounced off the defense and directly to Benayoun, who
immediately slotted home from 15 yards out, handing Israel a welldeserved 1-0
Israel’s defense early on was as impressive as its ability to
manufacture scoring chances, as the home side was bombarded by a flurry of
aggressive yet precise sliding tackles. If those didn’t lead to a dispossession,
then a blue-and-white leg would soon find its way into a passing
The Latvians settled in more and more as the half progressed, but
Dudu Aouate managed to keep the Israeli net clear.
Three minutes from
halftime, a splitsecond lapse in judgment gifted Israel its second
Defender Yuval Shpungin beat Artis Lazdins to the ball just inside
Vanins’s box, and took a masterful fall when Lazdins nudged him, causing Irish
referee Alan Kelly to sound his whistle, with Tal Ben Haim approaching the
It was a borderline penalty call, as Lazdins’s challenge
wasn’t nearly tough enough to send even the scrawniest player to the
But Ben Haim made sure Israel cashed in. The West Ham defender
stutterstepped his way to the ball but smoothly slid it to the left of Vanins,
who dove right, and Israel led 2-0.
There was still time for two more
solid Latvian chances before halftime, but the Israeli defense cleared them
both, and the visitors had to feel better about their efforts over the first 45
minutes when Kelly’s whistle blew.
Buzaglo’s playmaking was on display
early in the second half, as he ended an immersive, calculated run by dropping
the ball off to Benayoun in center of the field, but the Chelsea midfielder lost
control as he approached the Latvian goal.
The luck that helped Israel
score its second goal came back to bite it in the 61st minute, when the ball
brushed Buzaglo’s shoulder in the area, and Kelly awarded Latvia a penalty of
Aleksandr Cauna’s effort mirrored Ben Haim’s almost exactly, and
the hosts had cut the defect in half.
Most of Latvia’s chances over the
last 25 minutes resulted from long lobs over the blue-and-white defense, as
pressing Israeli defenders and midfielders made life difficult for the Latvian
offense on the ground.
Tomer Hemed nearly made it 3-1 with six minutes to
play when his sliding header was smothered by Vanins mere inches from the goal
Latvia had a flurry of chances in stoppage time, as Aouate had to
battle the sun and misplayed a corner that would have tied the game if not for
Dekel Keinan’s well-positioned head.
But Fernandez’s boys held their
hosts until the final whistle, keeping their hopes alive for a trip next year to
what would be Israel’s first-ever European championship.
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