Israel's hopes of reaching the 2011 UEFA European Under-21 Championships suffered a blow on Saturday after Moti Ivanir's men lost 1-0 at Montenegro.
After recording a disappointing home draw in its opening qualifier against Kazakhstan, Israel went on to beat both Bulgaria and Kazakhstan on the road thanks to late goals. But it could not repeat the trick for a third time in Podgorica on Saturday.
Stefan Nikolic's fifth minute header proved to be the winner, and Israel will now turn its focus to Wednesday's must-win encounter against Bulgaria at National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
"We created many chances, but could not convert them," Barcelona midfielder Gai Assulin said. "We conceded an early goal, but we were still the better team and should have found a way back into the match. I hope that in Israel, with the help of the fans, we will do better."
Ivanir was equally disappointed. "We only have ourselves to blame," he said. "We conceded an early goal, but completely controlled the match after that and missed some great chances."
The coach went on to blame the referee for contributing to the defeat.
"Even though this is not an excuse I must say that the Italian referee was one-sided. I've never seen such refereeing before. It is disappointing that UEFA, the flag-bearer of fair play, sent such a referee to officiate the match."
Israel is currently third in Group 6 with seven points from four matches.
Montenegro leads the group with 10 points from five matches with Sweden second with seven points from three matches.
The 10 qualifying group winners and four runners-up with the best records will advance to the playoffs where seven two-leg ties will decide who joins hosts Denmark in the 2011 finals.\