Israel and Iceland played to an entertaining 2-2 draw as the sides split the points in UEFA Nations League B, Group 2 action late Monday night at Laugardalsvöllur in Reykjavík.
The blue-and-white needed to come back twice to take a point and now sits atop the group with five points (one win and two draws), with one more match left to play, against Albania back in Israel in September.
The hosts took an early lead via a Jón Dagur Thorsteinsson header, but Iceland's own-goal off a Ramzi Safuri shot helped the blue-and-white head into the break level at 1-1.
Thórir Jóhann Helgason gave Arnar Viðarsson’s side a 2-1 advantage after capitalizing on an Israeli defensive error, but Dor Peretz was able to just get the ball over the line as his goal was confirmed by the Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR) to earn a point for Alon Hazan’s squad.
“We had chances to decide the game as did they,” Hazan said following the game. “The result reflected the nature of the match and we played bravely after having made some mistakes. There are things that we need to improve. We didn’t begin the game well, but what was good is that we were able to wake up despite that whereas in the past we wouldn’t be able to do so. We don’t want to be in that situation, but as time goes by we will improve on that.”
“We want to finish in first place and we have some time to get ready for the last game, but we will come in ready.”Manor Solomon, winger, Israel national soccer team
Israeli winger Manor Solomon also reflected on the road result.
“We wanted to win, but a draw is a good outcome,” Solomon noted. “We are giving up goals that we shouldn’t, but the second half saw us all press much better and the 2-2 draw is a good result. We were able to come back, which was something we were unable to do in the past when we would go down 2-1 and not be able to get a draw on the road. We want to finish in first place and we have some time to get ready for the last game, but we will come in ready.”
As for a move to Fulham, Solomon hinted with a smile that he could be heading to the English Premier League.
“Fulham makes sense, but everyone will find out very soon where I will be going to play this coming season.”
Israel traveled to Reykjavik after beating host Albania on Friday.
Iceland, Israel and Albania are the only teams in what was originally a four-side group after Russia was banned by UEFA in the aftermath of its invasion of Ukraine.
Two weeks ago, the blue-and-white played Iceland to a 2-2 draw at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa in the opening game of the campaign. Prior to that matchup, the two nations had played three international friendlies, with Israel winning two and drawing one, as Hazan’s team looked to maintain its momentum after the win in Albania.
The hosts grabbed an early lead when Thorsteinsson headed home the ball right over a poorly positioned Israeli ’keeper, Ofir Marciano, off a throw-in set piece in the ninth minute.
Just two minutes later Iceland almost doubled the score on an almost identical play, but this time the blue-and-white shot-stopper was in place.
Israel tried its luck in the box as Liel Abada fed Monas Dabbur, but the latter’s attempt was saved by Rúnar Rúnarsson, while Mahmoud Jaber’s attempt in the 22nd minute was also taken care of by Iceland's keeper.
Blue-and-white defender Doron Leidner coughed up the ball in the midfield but Arnór Sigurdsson’s chance was brilliantly taken care of by a shaky Marciano a few minutes later.
Hazan’s players started to press for the equalizer and they found it in the 35th minute when Ramzi Safuri’s attempt caromed off of Daníel Leó Grétarsson and behind a helpless Rúnarsson to draw Israel even at 1-1.
Miguel Vitor’s header off a corner kick just went over the bar and Safuri’s low liner just went by the right post, while Hördur Magnússon’s 45th-minute free-kick smashed off the bar for Iceland as the sides went into the intermission all knotted up at one a piece.
The second half saw both teams searching in earnest for the go-ahead goal as Thorsteinsson’s shot was blocked in the box while Solomon’s chance was also blocked and Peretz missed the target.
However, Helgason pounced on a rebound in the 60th minute as the Israeli defenders were turned inside out to give Iceland a 2-1 lead.
But just five minutes later, Peretz came flying into the box and his attempt just crossed the goal line as Rúnarsson desperately tried to keep the ball out. But the goal was confirmed by the VAR to tie the game up at 2-2.
After a number of wholesale substitutions on both sides, Sun Menachem’s opportunity for Israel just skipped by the right post while Sveinn Aron Gudjohnsen’s chance for the hosts was smothered by Marciano in the 83rd minute.
Each team had marginal chances as time wound down, however, no more goals would be scored as the sides split the points in Reykjavík.
Palestine downs Philippines to secure Asian Cup finals berth
Palestine thrashed the Philippines 4-0 in Ulaanbaatar on Tuesday to book a spot at next year’s Asian Cup finals, a result which also sealed qualification for six other sides at the continental championship.
Goals from Saleh Chihadeh, Tamer Seyam, Mohammed Yamin and Mahmoud Abu Warda earned the Palestinians their third win in a row in Group B.
The winners of the six qualifying groups will advance with the five best runners-up to the tournament, which had been due to be played in China but the country’s zero-COVID policy saw it withdraw from hosting the event.
The Asian Football Confederation has asked for bids to replace China as hosts, with a decision set to be taken later in the year.
Tuesday’s result means the second-placed team in Group B cannot amass more than four points, which has an impact on the qualification picture in other groups.
Group C leader Uzbekistan and second-place Thailand are both on six points and assured of places ahead of their meeting in Namangan.
In Group D, Hong Kong and India are now also guaranteed spots before they face off in Kolkata. Hong Kong’s qualification will see the former British colony appear at the finals for the first time since the 1968 edition in Iran.
Central Asian duo Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan will also progress from Group F.
In the quest for the remaining spots, Jordan leads the standings in Group A ahead of Indonesia and Kuwait, while Bahrain tops Group E from Malaysia and Turkmenistan.
The qualifiers will join 13 nations who have already sealed their spots including defending champions Qatar, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Australia. China is also set to take part.
Reuters contributed to this report.