Soccer: Israel seeks first win against England

While history will be made no matter what the result, Israel's supporters hope the match will be memorable not just for the opponent and the setting.

By JOSHUA HALICKMAN
September 7, 2007 07:56
4 minute read.
Soccer: Israel seeks first win against England

israel trains 2 224.88. (photo credit: AP)

 
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This Saturday marks the fourth time Israel and England will do battle on the football pitch in a Euro 2008 Qualifying clash. The outcome of this game could very well determine who moves on to Austria and Switzerland next year and who will stay home. The game will also mark the first time the two teams will face each other at the new Wembley Stadium. The previous meetings were the Euro 2008 Qualifying match in in Ramat Gan last March, which ended in a 0-0 draw, and friendlies played in 1986 and 1988. The games played in the 1980s saw the likes of Glenn Hoddle, Bryan Robson and John Barnes gracing the pitch for England. Unheralded Israel matched up with Eli Ohana, Uri Malmillian and Avi Cohen. The first encounter between the clubs took place on a sunny afternoon on February 26, 1988. Some 30,000 rabid fans packed the newly renovated National Stadium, including president Chaim Herzog. They saw Betar Jerusalem stalwart Ohana give the home side a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute. But Robson stole one back early on in the second half and then scored the winner on a penalty in the 87th minute. "The game had a great atmosphere versus a top international team," Cohen told The Jerusalem Post this week. "We were not as good as the English but we tried our best to win the game." England was playing in the second of their six warm-up games to the 1986 World Cup and had just come off a 4-0 victory in Egypt. "Though the game was a friendly, it was a terrific honor to play England, especially at home," Cohen said. After the Heysel Stadium disaster in Brussels in May 1985, in which 39 people were killed, many countries were afraid to host England and its fans, fearing a repeat of the match between Liverpool and Juventus. English club teams were banned for a period of time from participating in all European competitions, except for the national team. "Security was very tight and the stadium guards would not let us bring beverages and flags into the facility," said David Graniewitz, a British expatriate and now a Jerusalem resident who attended both fixtures. "The atmosphere for the matches, especially the first in 1986 was amazing! The 1988 game was played on a water-logged pitch in miserable rainy weather. It was a dreadfully dull and boring match." With the game only minutes old, Motti Iwanir sent a long ball through to Ohana, who beat two defenders before sending a low shot past the diving goalkeeper Peter Shilton. Shilton got his fingers on the ball but it dribbled off into the net. After the match, England manager Bobby Robson told the Post: "Israel gave us shock with that early goal and we would have lost the match if England's players had not kept their cool and poise." Bryan Robson equalized with a fantastic header out of mid-air from a Glenn Hoddle pinpoint pass in the 52nd minute. Then with minutes remaining and Israel trying to hang on to the draw, Cohen punched the ball over the crossbar off another Robson header, which resulted in a penalty that Robson slotted home for the victory. "I don't remember much of that play," Cohen said, "but Bryan Robson played a great game for England and deserved the result." Prior to the match the English press had been skeptical about the quality of the Israeli side, but Bobby Robson echoed much of what they thought after the performance. "Israel put up a fine show and deserve a lot of credit," he said. "They gave us a good game and a sharp test." "The real hero of the game was Avi Ran, the Israeli goalkeeper," Graniewitz said. "He was outstanding. Without him in nets making save after save, the result would not have been as close." The Maccabi Haifa goalkeeper was a rising star and had the potential to be a top international player, but was killed in an accident on Lake Kinneret in 1987. The second game between the teams took place on February 17, 1988, and ended in a 0-0 draw as familiar faces to Israeli football featured on the field that rainy date. Bonni Ginzburg, Channel 1's sports commentator, was in goal, former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Nir Klinger was manning the back line and Eli Driks played up front. John Barnes was dangerous for England on this day, but Cohen, the former Anfield star, was able to rein him in on a miserable pitch. "The conditions were not good for football," Cohen said. Malmillian had a few good chances and according to Bobby Robson, "He played exceptionally well." Regarding the upcoming game, Cohen said: "My heart is with Israel, but my head is with England. The game will be low-scoring and close, maybe 1-0 or 2-1." Graniewitz said the contest will be tight and favor the British, "maybe 2-1, with Israel holding on as England gets a fluky goal to steal the match. I have always supported Israel, but it will be very difficult not to support England on this night." While history will be made no matter what the result, Israel's supporters hope the match will be memorable not just for the opponent and the setting.

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