World Cup qualifier: Sahar scores crucial equalizer for Israel

The Israelis played well in the first half but much of its second half performance will give coach Dror Kashtan cause for concern.

By JEREMY LAST
September 7, 2008 01:51
4 minute read.
World Cup qualifier: Sahar scores crucial equalizer for Israel

benayoun israel soccer switzerland 224 8. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Israel's World Cup qualification hopes were kept alive on Saturday night when Ben Sahar scored a stunning injury time volley as the national team came from two goals down to produce a dramatic 2-2 draw against Switzerland in Ramat Gan on Saturday night. The Israelis played well in the first half but much of its second half performance will give coach Dror Kashtan cause for concern going into Wednesdays away game at Moldova. Greece and Switzerland are Israel's two big opponents in Group 2 which also includes Latvia, Luxembourg and Moldova. Despite controling nearly the entire first half the home side went 1-0 down a minute before half time as Hakin Yakin scored from a superb free kick. It went from bad to worse 12 minutes into the second half when FC Twente's Blaise Nkufo turned in a Yakin freekick. Captain Benayoun managed to pull one back with 18 minutes to go. And when it all looked lost, Portsmouth's Sahar popped up to win Israel a share of the points. Israel started the game the brightest, with Yossi Benyaoun surging forward on the right hand side from the off. A minute later Israel won a free kick just outside the penalty area and Benayoun got on the end of it but was ruled offside. A dangerous Salim Toama freekick six minutes into the game forced a leaping save by Switzerland keeper Diego Banaglio. After all the debate over who would start between the sticks, Israel coach Dror Kashtan decided to plump for out of favor Deportivo La Coruna goalkeeper Dudu Awat and leave Maccabi Haifa's Nir Davidovitch on the bench. Awat got his first touch of the ball three minutes after the kick off when Udinese midfielder Gokan Inler tried his luck with a long range effort which was easily smothered by the Israeli shot stopper. Betar Jerusalem right back, Shmuel Kozokin, was an unlikely starter in the Israel team which lost in Finland last month and again won a place and put in a solid performance. With a quarter of an hour gone the visiting Swiss looked somewhat rattled and uncomfortable on the ball while the home side was passing it around nicely. Benayoun looked to have won a penalty when he fell in the area but Swedish referee Henrik Hansson waved the appeals away. Another Benayoun run ended with a cross which swept across the goalmouth forcing a last gasp clearance from the visiting defense. Just before the half hour mark Benayoun made a superb run through the middle of the park into the penalty area reminiscent of the goal he scored against the Swiss in the 2-2 world Cup 2008 qualifying draw four years ago. But he somehow got the ball tangled up between his legs and couldn't get a shot off. Then Yakin finally came into the game and fired off a good shot but Awat stopped it well. As the first half drew on Kashtan's decision to leave free scoring KRC Genk striker Elyaniv Barda on the bench seemed to be a mistake as Israel was finding it increasingly difficult to score, with lone forward Roberto Colautti slow to the ball and showing he was perhaps not as match fit as the coach may have hoped. Salim Toama, however, was having a great game and came close to scoring the first goal three minutes before the end of the half when he took a free kick outside the area which zipped just left of the Swiss goal. But all the Israeli effort went to waste when Avi Strul unnecessarily fouled Yakin outside the area. The Al-Gharafa striker stepped up to take a free kick and hit it right into the top right hand corner. Kashtan tried to spice things up at half time, bringing on Portsmouth's Ben Sahar in place of Colautti up front. Sahar came close to making a nearly-immediate impact when he converted a super volley five minutes into the half only to see his effort ruled offside. While the Swiss had sworn confidence from their goal late in the first half, Israel had a certain penalty waved away a minute later when Benayoun was fouled in the box. But then disaster struck, again. Yakin took a seemingly innocuous free kick and somehow Nkufo got a touch to it to put the visitors into a 2-0 lead. When Israel finally scored it had to be Benayoun who gave Israel a glimmer of hope 18 minutes from the end. Sahar crossed from the right and just when it seemed Barda was getting tangled with Benayoun the Liverpool star knocked the ball in from a few meters out in the 73rd minute. A wave of genuine excitement swept through the stadium as Israel began pushing up in search for that crucial equalizer. However, as the seconds ticked away the goal appeared increasingly elusive for the boys in blue and white. Until Sahar pushed up, latched on to a cross from the right and sent the crowd into delight.

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