Avraham Grant's reign as Israel coach came to an end with a 2-0 defeat and a lackluster performance against Denmark on Wednesday night at National Stadium in Ramat Gan. After a thrilling World Cup qualifying run where Israel went undefeated and missed out on a spot in the playoffs on goal-difference, the team said goodbye to its coach with its first home defeat in over four years.
Only 15,762 fans turned up for the farewell match, a number that would have been much smaller if the Israel Football Association hadn't dropped ticket prices to token amounts this week.
Denmark improved its all-time record to 8-0 against Israel, outscoring the blue-and-white 20-2 in those matches. The loss was Grant's sixth in 33 games in charge.
"It's a disappointing result," Grant said. "We had our moments, but sometimes in friendly matches things don't go as planned."
Yossi Benayoun was as usual the best player on the pitch, but was unable to get the ball past Denmark and Aston Villa's outstanding goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen. The majority of Israel's chances came from solo runs and not team play.
"We didn't play well," defender Tal Ben-Haim summed up afterwards. "It wasn't the kind of soccer that we have showed in the last campaign. We missed a few good chances. This isn't the parting gift we wanted to give the coach."
On the other hand, the visitors seemed to play in low gear and had little trouble taking an early lead and coasting. While no player aside from Sorensen stood out, the team was a level above Israel.
Despite fears of Arab protests and flag burning due to the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that appeared in Danish papers last September, the Danes received a relatively warm welcome, including one fan who held up a sign that read "Israel will never forget the Danish help in WW2. We love you" during the visiting team's national anthem.
After a quiet stretch at the start of the game, Denmark went up 1-0 on a Kenneth Perez free kick in the seventh minute. Perez lined up from 25 meters diagonal to Nir Davidovitch's goal and sent in a cross that bounced on the five-meter line and into the upper left hand corner of the goal untouched.
Israel's first attempt came almost 10 minutes later when Shlomi Arbitman fought his way past two defenders and slammed a shot at Sorensen.
Morten Skoubo made it 2-0 in the 19th minute when Lars Jacobsen's pass put him alone in front of the goal and he slotted a shot past a helpless Davidovitch.
Israel's highlight came in the 60th minute when Benayoun danced and jigged his way around and through the Danish defense to get off a pretty shot at Sorensen, who fisted the ball away. Yaniv Katan was first to the rebound and headed the ball again towards the goal, but Sorensen was equal to the effort.
Eight minutes later Israel came close again when Adoram Keisi drilled a shot from 18 meters out, but a diving Sorensen was there again.
Perhaps Israel's best chance came with one minute left in regular time, but Omer Golan's close-range effort was right at Sorensen.