Blue-and-white heat up before Iceland visit

Solomon’s second-half brace sparks comeback victory in Albania • Hazan’s Israel tops Nations League group

 ISRAEL FORWARD Manor Solomon (center) left the host Albanians wondering what went wrong as his pair of second-half goals propelled the blue-and-white to a 2-1 victory over the weekend in UEFA Nations League group action. (photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
ISRAEL FORWARD Manor Solomon (center) left the host Albanians wondering what went wrong as his pair of second-half goals propelled the blue-and-white to a 2-1 victory over the weekend in UEFA Nations League group action.
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)

The Israeli national team slipped by Albania 2-1 over the weekend as Manor Solomon scored a sensational second-half brace to spur the comeback win and take the three points in Tirana.

Head coach Alon Hazan’s first victory as head coach moved the blue-and-white to the top of its UEFA Nations League B, Group 2 with four points, as the side now sets its sights on a visit to Iceland on Monday night.

Solomon has played his club soccer with Shakhtar Donetsk over the past number of years after growing up in the Maccabi Petah Tikva youth system. However, with the ongoing current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Solomon will be on the move once the Nations League matches come to a close this week, with Fulham in the English Premier League his most likely destination. Back in February, Solomon needed to flee the city of Kyiv when fighting broke out and was able to cross the border to Poland and then made his way to Israel.

Following the victory, Solomon didn’t want to reveal too much about his future plans despite his phenomenal performance.

“I don’t really want to talk about my future just yet and everyone will know where I will be heading after the national team window. Right now I am totally focused on being here with Israel and I want to help my teammates and represent my country, the one that I love as best as I can. I had a tough period of time, but I worked very hard to be ready to play for the national team.”

 Soccer Football - World Cup - UEFA Qualifiers - Group F - Israel v Austria - Sammy Ofer Stadium, Haifa, Israel - September 4, 2021 Israel's Shon Weissman celebrates scoring their fourth goal with teammates. (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS) Soccer Football - World Cup - UEFA Qualifiers - Group F - Israel v Austria - Sammy Ofer Stadium, Haifa, Israel - September 4, 2021 Israel's Shon Weissman celebrates scoring their fourth goal with teammates. (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

Friday’s contest got off to a rocky start at the brand new state-of-the-art Air Albania Stadium in Tirana as the local fans booed the Israel national anthem, Hatikvah, ferociously to the dismay of the blue-and-white faithful.

With the pressure on Hazan’s squad from the get-go, a penalty was whistled in favor of the hosts in the 20th minute due to a handball in the box by central defender Miguel Vitor, who also received a yellow card. But after review by the Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR) it was determined that in fact there was no handball and the spot-kick, along with the yellow card, was rescinded and play resumed.

“I don’t really want to talk about my future just yet and everyone will know where I will be heading after the national team window. Right now I am totally focused on being here with Israel and I want to help my teammates and represent my country."

Manor Solomon

However, just ahead of the break Mahmoud Jaber pulled down Ivan Balliu in the box handing Albania a penalty that Chelsea product Armando Broja promptly put behind Israel’s keeper Ofir Marciano to give the hosts a 1-0 lead at half-time.

Hazan began making cosmetic changes to his lineup, which paid dividends in the 57th minute when Solomon took a Doron Leidner ball on the left flank and raced into the box where he unleashed a left-footed stunner that whisked by Albania’s keeper Etrit Berisha to draw Israel even at 1-1.

A quarter-hour later, “King Solomon” helped the blue-and-white take the lead when he slammed home a smart pass in the box by Liel Abada to put Israel ahead for good as Hazan’s team took the win and the points.

“This game wasn’t the result of just one player,” Hazan said. “This was a total team effort that aided Solomon in scoring the goals. I am very happy for him, but what is important is the entire team, not just me or him. To concede a goal right before the half and then come back is great. We controlled the pace of play the entire second half and I am very excited as to how the guys all played.”

Solomon also reflected on the win.

“We played a terrific team with incredible players who feature in England and in Italy. Even though we were down after the first half we knew how to mount a comeback and take the win. We didn’t break and we believed in ourselves that we would be able to find a way to win the game. I’m really happy that I was able to score and help the team, especially after not having played since December.”

A number of teammates, including Ramzi Safouri, complimented Solomon on his performance.

“He is a European player of the top level and an incredibly talented player,” noted Safouri. “I’m really happy that I can play with him.”

Eli Dasa also spoke highly of Solomon’s abilities. “He’s super talented and I hope that he will land up at the best place for him as the sky’s the limit for him.”

Iceland and look-back on the game

Israel will now travel to Reykjavik where it will face Iceland in the third UEFA Nations League group game.

Two weeks ago, the blue-and-white played Iceland to a 2-2 draw at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa in the opening contest of the campaign. Prior to that matchup, the two nations had played three international friendlies, with Israel winning two and drawing one.

Hazan’s team will now look to pick up an additional victory before the final group game in September when it hosts Albania.

“We recorded a huge victory over Albania, which on paper are stronger than us, but we knew how to find a way to come back and take the win,” Solomon said. “Now we have to prepare for a very important game in Iceland and we have only three days to ready ourselves really well for this contest.”

Defender Sean Goldberg also looked ahead to the match in Iceland.

“They have an excellent national team and we will have to play them away from home. But we will play our soccer, show what we can do and try to win the game.”