Despite ho-hum effort vs Liechtenstein at Teddy, Hemed’s brace lifts Israel to second straight triumph.
By ALLON SINAI
Israel registered another win in 2018 World Cup qualification on Sunday night, but the 2-1 victory over Liechtenstein only raised further concern regarding the direction the national team is heading under the guidance of new coach Elisha Levy.After riding its luck on the way to its first win in Group G on Thursday, only edging Macedonia 2-1 in Skopje thanks to goalkeeper Dudu Goresh’s penalty save in the fifth minute of stoppage time, Israel was hoping to pick up some much-needed confidence against a semi-professional opponent.Liechtenstein entered the match following two defeats by a combined 0-10 goal difference, losing its last six qualifiers stretching back to June 2015 by a total goal difference of 0-24.Tomer Hemed netted two early goals in the 4th and 16th minutes to take his tally to three goals in three days, but instead of dominating the match on the way to a comprehensive win, the blue-and-white sat back and conceded from Max Goppel four minutes into the second half.Liechtenstein’s first goal in seven qualifiers stunned Israel and the hosts were fortunate to hold on for the win, sparing the blue-and-white what would have been one of the most humbling results in its history.Despite the dour performance, Levy insisted the team’s display didn’t deserve the boos it received from many of the 9,000 fans in attendance.“I think we played well in the first half,” insisted Levy. “After conceding the goal in the second half we lost our cool and patience and could have conceded another goal at the end. However, the important thing is that we picked up the points. I know we need to improve, but this is just our third match of the campaign and I think you need to be patient with this team.”AdvertisementWith powerhouses Italy and Spain likely to finish in the top two spots in the group, the blue-and-white’s battle for third place is expected to be against Albania.Israel visits Albania in its next qualifier on November 12, a match which could go a long way to determining which team finishes in third place.Only the winners of each group will qualify automatically for Russia 2018, with the eight best runners-up to advance to home-and-away playoffs.“I expected a better performance from my team, but soccer is not mathematics,” added Levy. “We need to learn that we can’t sit back after conceding a goal.I’m sure that with time we will improve and it is always better to work on your mistakes after a win. We need to improve with every match and we will do everything to make sure that will happen.”Captain Eran Zahavi was hoping to improve on his poor scoring record for the national team on Sunday, but remained on just five goals in 34 appearances and allowed his frustration to get the better of him at the end of the match.“It doesn’t matter if we won 2-1 or 8-1. I would be happy to play like this in Albania and win again,” said Zahavi. “I don’t have a monkey on my back. That is something that the media has created. I had a very good first half without scoring. I think the criticism leveled at me hurts the team even though it doesn’t hurt me. I don’t owe the media anything. It is easier to criticize me because I play in China now so all the rats are coming out.”
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