Blue-and-white dealt severe blow in Estonia

A missed opportunity for Israel as the World Cup qualifications are now in limbo until summer.

Israeli national basketball team center Richard Howell  (photo credit: FIBA EUROPE/ COURTESY)
Israeli national basketball team center Richard Howell
(photo credit: FIBA EUROPE/ COURTESY)
Israel will have to wait at least until the summer to secure its place in the second round of 2019 FIBA World Cup qualification, with its hopes of ultimately advancing to next year’s tournament in China suffering a significant setback with Sunday evening’s dejecting 78-62 defeat in Estonia.
With Greece beating Great Britain 75-70 in the day’s other game in Group H as expected, a victory for Israel would have ensured the blue-and-white a top-three finish and a place in the second round, even before it completes the first round with two more games in the summer, hosting Greece on June 29 and visiting Great Britain on July 2.
Israel was confident of winning in Tallinn after improving to a 2-1 record with an 82-75 triumph over Great Britain in Tel Aviv on Friday and thrashing Estonia by 20 points when the teams met last November.
However, a disastrous offensive showing in the final 10 minutes, in which Israel scored only nine points on 2-of-11 from the field, gave coach Oded Katash plenty to mull over as he prepares to begin life at Hapoel Jerusalem before turning his focus back to the national team at the end of June.
Despite the defeat, Israel is still well placed to finish in the top three, being tied with Estonia at 2-2, with Greece in the lead at 4-0 and Great Britain in last place at 0-4.
But even should the blue-and-white qualify in the summer, the loss to Estonia could well come back to haunt it in the second round.
All results from the first qualification round will be carried over to the second round, which will be played between September 2018 and February 2019.
The second round will be comprised of four groups of six teams each, with the top three in each group to secure a berth in the World Cup.
The top three in Israel’s group will join the top three from Group G in the second round, with Germany, Serbia and Greece shaping up to be the blue-and-white’s main rivals.
Israel already trails the unbeaten Germany, as well as Greece, by two games, with continental powerhouse Serbia at 3-1 in Group G.
On Sunday, a 12-2 Estonia run to start the second quarter gave the hosts an eight-point gap (29-21) and Israel wouldn’t lead again. The visitors, however, were within only four points (37-33) at the break and entered the final frame down by a mere three points (56-53).
But Estonia would hit the ground running at the start of the fourth period, scoring seven quick points to open a double-digit cushion (63-53) and cruising to the final buzzer.
Jake Cohen scored 12 points for Israel, with Raviv Limonad the team’s only other player in double figures, netting 10 points.
Sten Olmre had 16 points for Estonia, which hit 14 three-pointers from 36 attempts, out-rebounding Israel 37-28 after grabbing 15 offensive boards.
“A lot of things didn’t work for us,” explained Katash. “We didn’t manage to reach our spots on offense and we didn’t create many open shots. The result of our first meeting against them caused people to think that this would be an easy game. But they beat Great Britain at home and almost defeated Greece. We should have nevertheless found a way to create something on offense, but unfortunately we didn’t manage to.”