Israel Croatia 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Croatia ended any illusion Israel coach Dror Kashtan still had of guiding his side to Euro 2008, defeating the national team 1-0 at Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb on Saturday night.
Kashtan's makeshift line-up was on the back foot for the entire 90 minutes and very rarely threatened on the attack.
Croatia dominated the possession from the start, albeit without ever looking entirely convincing. The hosts were not at their imperious best but nevertheless got the one goal they needed to defeat their toothless opponents.
Brazilian-born striker Eduardo da Silva, who scored a hat-trick in Croatia's 4-3 victory over Israel in Ramat Gan last year, gave his side all three points with a clinical finish in the 52nd minute.
Following Saturday's results Israel trails Croatia and England by nine and six points respectively and can no longer overtake the two to finish in first or second place in Group E.
Israel can still finish level on points with England if the English lose their final two matches and Israel wins its last two. But the blue and white would still not qualify as the record between the sides is the deciding factor rather than goal difference and England won both of its games against Israel.
"We made one mistake and da Silva made us pay for it," Kashtan said after the match. "We lost any chance we had of qualifying for Euro 2008, but four players made their debut and we will smile in the future like the Croatians smiled tonight."
The hosts seized the initiative from the first whistle, but Israel soaked up the early pressure, keeping its opponents at bay. A poor clearance in the 16th minute almost cost Israel dearly, however an equally poor shot by Ivica Olic kept the score tied.
The hosts' inability to score began to frustrate them and despite the virtually one-way traffic they failed to breach the visitors' defense.
Eight minutes before the interval Darijo Srna found space inside the Israel box, but a last ditch tackle by Elyaniv Barda made sure the teams remained deadlocked at the break.
After a largely ineffective first-half display Croatia created an excellent scoring opportunity in the 46th minute, with da Silva missing from the center of the box.
Six minutes later, however, the hosts' domination finally paid off. Vedran Corluka crossed perfectly for da Silva, who beat Tal Ben-Haim to the ball and gave his side the lead.
The goal forced Israel to push forward and the team almost equalized immediately. Aviram Bruchian, who was making his debut for the national team, found Barda inside the box, but the forward's shot was blocked by the hosts' defense.
Less than a minute later Croatia's best player of the night Luka Modric came close to doubling his team's lead, hitting a right footed shot just right of Nir Davidovitch's goal.
Israel captain Yossi Benayoun made his first significant contribution to the match in the 60th minute, avoiding a couple of challenges and releasing a dangerous right footed shot that was well saved by Stipe Pletikosa.
Croatia was content with its one goal lead and allowed the visitors to send men forward in search of an equalizer. Seven minutes before the final whistle substitute Omer Golan beat Pletikosa to the ball, but could only send his header wide of goal. Golan's header would prove to be the blue-and-whites last chance of the match and Israel will have to wait at least two more years to qualify for a big tournament again.
"Croatia's coach Slaven Bilic told me that this was one of his toughest matches," Kashtan said. "I think the Croatians didn't play well because of us. I hope that we will continue to improve in our next match against Russia."
Israel hosts Russia and Macedonia on November 17 and 21 respectively in its final two matches of Euro 2008 qualification.