Israel downs Poland 69-61 in World Cup kickoff

“It wasn’t pretty but we wanted the win and that was most important," said Israel captain Gal Mekel.

 Yam Madar leads Israel to a 69-61 victory to open up World Cup qualifying on the right foot (photo credit: FIBA)
Yam Madar leads Israel to a 69-61 victory to open up World Cup qualifying on the right foot
(photo credit: FIBA)

Israel defeated Poland 69-61 to open up their World Cup qualifying campaign on the right foot. The blue-and-white came back from an early 15-point deficit on the strength of Yam Madar’s stellar play along with fine showings down the stretch by Jake Cohen and Gal Mekel to take the victory.

Poland came in aggressively from the get-go and stunned a shell shocked Israel to go up 19-4 but the hosts began to dig their way out of the early hole as Madar and Ginat began hitting their shots to take the control of the game and take the win.

“Games at the beginning of windows are tough,” Israel coach Guy Goodes began. “We played against a new coach and team. They trapped early and we had to adjust. By the second quarter, the bench closed the gap that they had opened and it wasn’t pretty but I’m happy that our defense played well. It was very important to start the window with a win.”

“I’m very sorry for my players as they deserve this win,” Poland Coach Igor Milicic lamented. “We have a lot of talent with this young team and they put everything on the floor. I’m really proud from my guys and if they continue this way they will have a successful future.”

Israel captain Gal Mekel also commented about the victory, “It wasn’t pretty but we wanted the win and that was most important. They came out super aggressive and they scored a lot of points in a very short time. Once we got into a flow we played much better and our defense was good in the half-court.”

WITH THE leadership and skill of savvy veterans Guy Pnini (left) and Gal Mekel (right), Israel has reeled off four straight victories in its EuroBasket 2022 qualifying campaign. (credit: FIBA/COURTESY)WITH THE leadership and skill of savvy veterans Guy Pnini (left) and Gal Mekel (right), Israel has reeled off four straight victories in its EuroBasket 2022 qualifying campaign. (credit: FIBA/COURTESY)

On Friday, Israel will head out to Tallinn where they will play Estonia on Sunday evening in their second game of the window as they will look to record another win. For that game, the blue-and-white will have reinforcements as well with Maccabi Tel Aviv captain John DiBartolomeo and forward Roman Sorkin joining the team after their game late Thursday night at ALBA Berlin.

Guy Goodes made his debut on the sidelines for the blue-and-white as his squad featured many veterans who had put on the national team jersey in the recent past including Captain Gal Mekel who plays his club ball with Andorra, Jake Cohen and Iftach Ziv from Maccabi Tel Aviv, Adam Ariel and Itay Segev from Hapoel Jerusalem, Partizan Belgrade’s Yam Madar, Tomer Ginat from Metropolitans, Rafi Menco and Guy Pnini from Hapoel Holon, Hapoel Galil Elton’s Nimrod Levi, Idan Zalmanson from Hapoel Tel Aviv along with one first timer in Hapoel Eilat guard Roi Huber.

Israel had faced a strong Poland squad twice during 2020 and won both games in Eurobasket 2022 qualifying but this version of the team featured only a few holdovers as well as up and coming big man Aleksander Roman "Olek"; Balcerowski who stands at 2.19 meters or 7”2 giving the hosts an advantage at least on paper.

Jake Cohen opened the game up with a floater in the lane for Israel but Jakub Garbacz and Marcel Ponitka came right back to put in quick baskets off of a pair of blue-and-white turnovers to get the first quarter off to a frantic start. Cohen had issues inside against Olek Balcerowski while Jaroslaw Zyskowski went from downtown as did Michal Kolenda giving the visitors a 13-2 lead midway through the period.

Kolenda put points in the paint, Tomasz Gielo went from deep but Nimrod Levi finally hit Israel’s first triple of the game and Yam Madar put in a floater to keep the blue-and-white competitive but down 21-12 after ten minutes.

Guy Pnini and Iftach Ziv put in points to begin the second quarter while Yam Madar added a bucket and Pnini dialled up long distance to pull to within 3-points, 27-24 with 5:01 left in the half. Tomer Ginat finished off a terrific team passing play with an easy look inside, he then added a pair of layups to give Israel a 31-27 lead at halftime.

Kolenda and Mekel traded buckets to get the third quarter underway, Idan Zalmanson made his way by Balcerowski for an layup, Ponitka went from deep as did Rafi Menco to give Guy Goodes’s squad a 39-35 lead midway through the frame. Levi scored inside and Mekel went from the outside as he did it once again off a Madar dish while Cohen added a basket to open up a 10-point, 49-39 lead after thirty minutes of play.

Levi began the fourth quarter with a comer 3-ball, Pnini went from downtown as well, Kolenda matched him at the other end but Levi and Madar continued to fill the basket for Israel as they held a 59-49 advantage with 6:48 remaining in regulation time. Cohen put the ball in off the glass, Balcerowski scored a pair of buckets in the paint and Zyskowski added points as well to cut the lead to 61-55 with 2:21 left. Balcerowski nailed a triple, Cohen responded with points inside, Kolenda once again scored a 3-pointer but Mekel and Cohen scored their free throws to wrap up the win.