Blue-and-white roars back to beat Slovakia

Fired-up Zahavi nets three second-half tallies to give Israel maiden Nations League conquest

ISRAEL STRIKER Eran Zahavi heads home the blue-and-white’s first goal early in the second half of its 3-2 comeback victory over host Slovakia in Nations League action. (photo credit: REUTERS)
ISRAEL STRIKER Eran Zahavi heads home the blue-and-white’s first goal early in the second half of its 3-2 comeback victory over host Slovakia in Nations League action.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel stunned Slovakia 3-2 in UEFA Nations League play late Wednesday as Eran Zahavi scored a second-half hat-trick to help the blue-and-white comeback from a 2-0 deficit to take the victory in Trnava.
Head coach Willi Ruttensteiner’s squad gave up a pair of early goals as Marek Hamsik scored on a free kick while Robert Mak doubled the advantage soon thereafter.
However, an incident just as the halftime whistle sounded that almost led to blows between Zahavi and his attacking partner Monas Dabbur lit the team on fire going into the second half as EZ7 scored a trio of goals, via a header, his right foot and his left foot to shock the hosts and snatch the unlikely victory on foreign soil.
The blue-and-white picked up the three points to move its Nations League B, Group 2 record to one win, two draws and a loss, good for third place behind group leader Scotland and the Czech Republic. It will now have to wait until November for the final two group games. Israel will play away at the Czech Republic on November 15 and will then host Scotland three days later at the Netanya Stadium before the Israel National Team heads into standard World Cup 2022 qualifying.
The win over Slovakia was Israel’s first victory since October 15, 2019 when the blue-and-white defeated Latvia 3-1, while the club’s last away victory was also against Latvia in June of that same year.
“This was a great game and we were the better team,” said a thrilled Zahavi following the game. “We should have been leading earlier on and we could have scored even more to make this an easier win. I’m here to work as hard as I can and score goals for Israel.”
Zahavi then referenced the halftime time clash with his teammate.
“We were very upset and we had been running a lot. We cursed at each other, but when we went into the dressing room we sorted out the issues. Sometimes it’s good that there are emotions on the National Team and we all show that we care.”
Dabbur also spoke about putting the incident aside very quickly.
“[Zahavi]’s a star and it’s great that we have him with us, but sometimes things just don’t go the way you want them to. That’s the story of the striker. I’m thrilled that he scored a hat-trick and perhaps I will have to light him up every game at halftime.”
Ruttensteiner reflected on the unlikely victory.
“This was a good win and it’s always great to be able to comeback from a two-goal deficit. I’m proud of my players and this was an excellent game in my eyes.”
The blue-and-white made a number of changes to the starting lineup that featured in the past couple of games against Scotland in the European Championship Playoffs and in the previous National League clash at home versus the Czech Republic, as central defender Oral Dagani and defensive back Maor Kandil entered the fray for the squad.
They joined goalkeeper Ofir Marciano, defenders Sheran Yeini, Eitan Tibi and Eli Dasa while the midfield featured captain Bibras Natcho, Eyal Golasa and Manor Solomon as Dabbur and Zahavi started up front.
Both Israel and Slovakia had chances over the opening 10 minutes, but the host captain Hamsik – who was a stalwart in Italy’s Serie A with Napoli but now currently playing his cub football in China – broke the ice with a free kick that found its way behind an out of place Marciano to take a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute.
Twenty-five minutes later, Mak sent a gorgeous curler into the Israel goal to give Slovakia a two-goal lead as the squads headed into the break.
As the players left the field, Israel’s second-choice ’keeper Ariel Harush had to separate Dabbur and Zahavi as the pair almost got into a sparring match going down to the dressing room.
However, the emotions at the end of the first 45 minutes spilled over into the second half for the good as Israel looked fresh and focused out of the dressing room.
Ruttensteiner brought on Ofri Arad for Yeini to start the second half while Neta Livi replaced Natcho soon thereafter as the bench boss’s moves substitutions began to pay dividends.
Solomon sent a pinpoint perfect corner kick right into the box that Zahavi headed home with authority to cut the Slovakia lead to 2-1 in the 68th minute.
Encouraging his team on, Zahavi worked his magic eight minutes later when he directed home a Golasa pass with his left foot in the box to draw the blue-and-white even as Israel continued to press for a winner, which would come in the 89th minute.
An active Golasa then handed the ball off to Zahavi who sent a scorching rocket into the top left hand corner of the goal to set off the celebrations as Israel secured its first triumph and three-point performance in this season’s continental competition.