Israel to stay home for Euro 2012

Any lingering hopes Israel may have had of reaching Euro 2012 were dashed on Tuesday night after a 3-1 defeat to Croatia in Zagreb.

Benayoun 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Benayoun 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Any lingering hopes Israel may have had of reaching Euro 2012 were dashed on Tuesday night after a 3-1 defeat to Croatia in Zagreb.
After losing to Greece 1-0 at Bloomfield Stadium on Friday, the national team had to win in Croatia to maintain a slender chance of a top-two finish in Group F. Everything seemed to be going according to plan when Tomer Hemed gave the blue-and-white a 1-0 halftime lead with a goal in the 44th minute.
However, Luka Modric equalized for the hosts with the second half less than two minutes old, and a reckless challenge by Tal Ben-Haim in the 51st minute made Israel’s mission all but impossible.
Ben-Haim’s foolish tackle on Eduardo resulted in a red card and the Croatian striker scored a quick brace in the 55th and 57th minutes to officially end Israel’s dream of advancing to the European Championships.
Israel will complete its qualifying campaign with a match against Malta on October 11, but it can already begin planning for its 2014 World Cup campaign where it will face Portugal, Russia, Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg in Group F.
Coach Luis Fernandez is set to leave and Israel fans will be hoping that his replacement will be able to finally end the national team’s drought and guide it to a major tournament for the first time since the 1970 World Cup.
The lack of pressure did Israel wonders at the start of the match and it even found the back of the net after less than five minutes.
Biram Kiyal’s shot from 20 meters out beat ’keeper Stipe Pletikosa, but it took a late deflection off Yossi Benayoun, who was marginally offside.
Croatia struggled to find its rhythm and apart from Dejan Lovren’s header in the sixth minute – which was saved by Dudu Aouate – created little to nothing in the first 30 minutes of the encounter.
Israel contained the Croats with ease, with Aouate clearing the danger whenever the hosts finally broke down the blue-and-white defense.
One minute from the break, Israel took a stunning lead.
The Croatian defense cleared Eran Zahavi’s through ball straight into Hemed’s feet and the RCD Mallorca striker scored the opener with a stunning finish.
The first half went exactly as Fernandez had hoped, but everything possible would go wrong after the interval.
Fernandez had to substitute the injured Aouate with Maccabi Tel Aviv goalkeeper Guy Haimov and after less than two minutes on the field he already had to pick the ball out of the back of the net.
Disgruntled Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Luka Modric showed exactly why Chelsea was chasing him so vigorously this summer, releasing an unstoppable effort from 20 meters out.
Four minutes later, Ben- Haim ended any hope Israel may have had of leaving Zagreb with all three points.

The Portsmouth defender irresponsibly lunged at Croatia’s Eduardo and fully deserved to be shown a red card by Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo.
Eduardo, who had his career wrecked by a thoughtless tackle when he was playing for Arsenal two-and-a-half years ago, avenged Ben- Haim’s wild challenge with two goals in three minutes that would clinch Croatia’s win.
In the 55th minute, Modric picked out the Brazilianborn striker and he chipped Haimov before heading in another goal two minutes later to ensure Croatia took all three points and Israel’s dreams of qualifying came to an end with one match to play.