Israel beaten by Czech Republic in Nations League

Through three group games, blue-and-white still without a victory • Slovakia on tap

ISRAEL DEFENDER Joel Abu Hanna (right) in action with the Czech Republic’s Vladimir Coufal during the blue-and-white’s 2-1 home defeat on Sunday night in Nations League action at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
ISRAEL DEFENDER Joel Abu Hanna (right) in action with the Czech Republic’s Vladimir Coufal during the blue-and-white’s 2-1 home defeat on Sunday night in Nations League action at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel fell to the Czech Republic 2-1 at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa on Sunday night as the National Team remained winless in UEFA Nations League play.
The tone was set early as the blue-and-white gave up a pair of goals on sloppy defensive plays at the start of both halves.
Defender Joel Abu Hanna and ’keeper Ofir Marciano were the culprits on the first marker in the 14th minute, which resulted in an own-goal as the shot-stopper watched the ball roll into the net off an ill-advised back-pass.
The visitors then carved up the Israeli defense at the start of the second half as Matej Vydra gave the Czechs a two-goal lead.
Eran Zahavi pulled back a goal, his 21st with the National Team, but it was not enough for Israel to salvage a point.
Israel will now face Slovakia on Wednesday night as the blue-and-white will look to win its first game in its Nations League group, with a record of no wins, two draws and a defeat.
“If you make mistakes and you miss your chances then you can’t take points,” said a disappointed coach Willi Ruttensteiner. “We played very well and created chances but we couldn’t finish.”
The Austrian bench boss continued: “The team is in an excellent process and young players are coming in and making a difference. The Czechs played an excellent first 30 minutes and right after halftime they added a goal and we could have come back.”
Marciano also reflected on the tough defeat and giving up a surprising goal.
“It wasn’t easy to get back into the game after giving up such a goal but I have to go on and it’s part of the game. Unfortunately, it happened and I have to learn from it. I’ve had some good games and I’ve made mistakes. Many greats have made errors like that, but it’s disappointing.”
Ruttensteiner’s starting lineup featured three changes from the European Championship playoff semifinal defeat to Scotland on Thursday night. Defender Abu Hanna, midfielder Muhammed Abu Fani and striker Shon Weissman all started their first Israel National Team games.
They replaced Nir Bitton – who stayed behind in Scotland with his club team Celtic in order to recuperate from his injury but was then diagnosed with coronavirus – Eyal Golasa and Monas Dabbur.
The balance of the Israeli team remained the same with Marciano in goal, Eli Dasa, Eitan Tibi, Sheran Yeini and Hatem El Hamed as he defenders, Manor Solomon and captain Bibras Natcho in the midfield with striker Zahavi up front.
Israel looked shaky in the opening minutes as Bitton’s absence was felt almost immediately with the blue-and-white defenders getting crossed up over the first 10 minutes of play.
Ruttensteiner’s players finally paid a steep price for their lackadaisical play when defender Abu Hanna’s back-pass on goal went right Marciano and into the back of the net for a 1-0 Czech Republic lead.
A stunned blue-and-white took about 15 minutes to locate its footing after the shocking goal and came very close to drawing even when Natcho swung in a sharp free kick that found Zahavi’s head, but his effort was easily caught by Tomáš Vaclík to keep the score as is.
Israel continued to press, but the visitors took the 1-0 advantage into the halftime break as they were able to stave off the late first-half threat.
However, things went from bad to worse to begin the second half as Matej Vydra took a field long pass cut between the Israeli defenders and falsity slotted the ball behind an unprepared Marciano to give the Czech Republic a 2-0 lead in the 48th minute.
Solomon almost pulled one back but his stunning shot just went wide, but Zahavi made sure to finish his chance in the 56th minute, as the super-striker scored on a gorgeous team play to bring Israel to within a goal.
Solomon’s low liner was stopped by Vaclik as Israel continued to ratchet up the offense when Ruttensteiner moved to three strikers bringing on Dia Saba and Dabbur with a quarter-hour left in the contest. Saba had a brilliant chance in the box, but his left-footed shot went over the bar as time ticked down.
Eden Kartzev made his Israel National Team debut as he entered the fray in favor of Abu Fani in the 87th minute.
Solomon sliced and diced his way into the box, but his smart shot hit off the right post and Dabbur’s chance went wide in the final minutes of the game, handing the Czech Republic the narrow victory.