Israel began its European Championship campaign on the wrong foot after drawing 1-1 with Kosovo on Saturday night at Bloomfield Stadium.
An Eli Dasa own-goal put the blue-and-white into a first-half hole, but Dor Peretz found the back of the net in the second half to salvage a point at home in a disappointing draw.
Head coach Alon Hazan’s crew will now head on the road for the second game in Euro 2024 qualifying, where it will face a Switzerland side coming off an easy 5-0 win over Belarus in which Renato Steffen scored a hat-trick.
Israel entered the first of 10 qualifiers in front of a sold-out Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv as Bibras Natcho made his final appearance for the National Team before retiring from international play.
The hosts controlled the pace of play from the get-go as Manor Solomon began a terrific team sequence, but Shon Weissman’s missed brilliant chance early on was stopped by Kosovo's keeper Arjanet Muric.
Dasa’s 19th-minute opportunity missed the target and five minutes later Weissman’s second terrific chance just went over the bar to keep the contest goalless.
However, Vedat Muruqi and Milot Rashica worked together to try and put Kosovo on the board first, which is exactly what happened when Dasa’s errant clearance went right behind his own ’keeper, Omri Glazer, to give the visitors a 1-0 advantage in the 36th minute.
Solomon tried to find the equalizer ahead of the break. but his chance missed the target as Israel went into halftime with a one-goal deficit.
Kosovo almost doubled the advantage just as the second half began when Rashica scored, but a handball in the box nullified the marker to keep the score at 1-0.
However, just when it looked like Kosovo would take an insurmountable lead Israel came back as Fulham’s Solomon sent Peretz a perfect pass that the latter put home to draw even at 1-1 in the 56th minute.
After Hazan made wholesale personnel changes on the pitch to try and find a winner, Solomon’s free kick went off of the defense.
Kosovo missed opportunities to win the game
Kosovo’s Arber Zeneli and Rashica had opportunities to win it for the guests, but their chances missed the mark as the match ended with the sides splitting the points.
“Of course, it was disappointing to take just one point in our first game at home, but this battle will go the entire way with Kosovo and Romania.”Alon Hazan, manager of Team Israel
“This result reflected the game that was,” Hazan said following the game. “We had a good first half and we needed to score at least a goal, while in the second half, we had some solid minutes and some that weren’t. We have a long way to go and our goal is to move from game to game. We played against a quality opponent but now our sights are on Switzerland and we will do what we can to take points.”
“Of course, it was disappointing to take just one point in our first game at home, but this battle will go the entire way with Kosovo and Romania,” added Hazan. “We want to advance and we believe and think that we can do just that. We have to be better and Kosovo proved that they can battle for first place in this group.”
The Israeli bench boss also looked ahead to the match in Switzerland.
“They are the favorites to finish in first place in the group even before the campaign began. We aren’t going to go there to come back with an honorable loss. We will do whatever we can to come back with points in this game and the ones that follow. We have to be focused, make it tough for them in the middle of the field and we are going to go there to play our game. We have a good national team that knows how to play and we will make the correct adjustments, so that we can play well.”
Solomon also looked back at the game that was.
“We drew but wanted to win. We started the game really well and had an excellent first half, but they were the ones who came out with the lead. The contest was wide open with both national teams finding chances. I personally wasn’t as accurate up front and we are disappointed with the result but this is just the beginning of the journey.”
Israel’s goal-scorer, Peretz, also talked about the result.
“We did everything that we had to do in order to win and we tried to bring pride to the fans who really wanted a victory. Nothing is over after just one game and we played well at times but we need to learn from this as well. We will go into the next game more prepared.”
Outgoing captain Natcho spoke about stepping away from the blue-and-white.
“There are moments where one doesn’t know what to say and over the last few days I have been overwhelmed with surprises, videos and pictures,” said the 35-year-old midfielder. “All kinds of people from all over reached out to me, and I’m happy that I was able to walk away on my own terms with my head held up high.”