Buoyant blue-and-white welcomes Slovakia

After encouraging 1-1 draw at Scotland, Zahavi & Co. back home for pivotal Nations League showdown.

ISRAEL STRIKER Eran Zahavi (center) celebrates with his teammates after scoring a 73rd-minute goal in the blue-and-white’s 1-1 away draw with Scotland on Friday night in Nations League group action in Glasgow. (photo credit: REUTERS)
ISRAEL STRIKER Eran Zahavi (center) celebrates with his teammates after scoring a 73rd-minute goal in the blue-and-white’s 1-1 away draw with Scotland on Friday night in Nations League group action in Glasgow.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel will host Slovakia on Monday evening at the Netanya Stadium in UEFA Nations League action and will look to take the three points after an upbeat performance on Friday night in Scotland.
Coach Willi Ruttensteiner, who made his debut on the sidelines on Friday, guided the squad to a 1-1 draw in Glasgow while Slovakia fell to the Czech Republic 3-1. Israel will play at Scotland again in October in the semifinal of the European Championship Playoffs for a ticket to the tournament next summer.
The blue-and-white will enter its second Nations League clash in fine form after the defense set the tone to split the points against Scotland, while Eran Zahavi continued his international hot streak and once again provided the firepower at Hampden Park.
Defenders Nir Bitton and Eli Dasa made sure that the Tartan Army had very chances for ’keeper Ofir Marciano to handle as the hosts only found the back of the goal via a penalty.
Slovakia, on the other hand, had a tough time at home against a game Czech Republic as the visitors scored three second half goals to take the win.
Israel has faced Slovakia four times prior to Monday night’s clash, having drawn once while losing three times, most recently in a 2014 friendly. Ruttensteiner’s team will have to contend with a pair of midfielders playing in Italy in Napoli’s Stanislav Lobotka and Parma’s Juraj Kucka while Inter Milan’s central midfielder Milan Skriniar shores up coach Pavel Hapal’s defense.
In Scotland, Monas Dabbur had a marvelous opportunity to give Israel the lead in the 42nd minute, but his brilliant header from five meters out was batted away by ’keeper David Marshall.
However, the hosts grabbed a 1-0 advantage right before the break after a controversial call on Eitan Tibi in the box led to a Ryan Christie penalty.
Israel came out strong in the second half and finally broke through in the 73rd minute to draw even. After a throw in to Zahavi, the striker flicked the ball to Dabbur, who immediately sent it back for Zahavi to pound the ball into the back of the goal as the sides split the points in an impressive performance by the visiting squad.
“This was a good performance by the National Team,” explained Ruttensteiner. “This was a good beginning to the campaign after a long break, but we still didn’t win. We have where to improve as we will play Scotland again in the European Championships Playoff semifinal in October. The fact that they didn’t have fans in the stadium helped us and if it was full it would have made it much more difficult for us. However, I do hope that in October there will be fans in the stands.”
Ruttensteiner also spoke about the improvements the team made on defense.
“A team that makes too many mistakes can’t win and we always have to keep improving. I don’t know if it was a [deserved] penalty or not, but I could see that we definitely improved. I can’t wait for Monday against Slovakia, which I believe will be strong, but we are playing at home.”
Zahavi, who scored 11 goals in the previous campaign for Israel, also reflected on the game.
“I’m very happy with our point and combining with Monas Dabbur was excellent. We understand each other and this will help us score more, but it was also how we played and worked hard as a team. We battled for every ball and we showed that we prepared properly for this match.”
The striker also looked ahead to next month’s clash with the Scots and Slovakia on Monday.
“That will be a totally different opera. I believe that we will do what we need to, but first we have Slovakia and we have to win as the Nations League is also very important. We are on the right track, but we have a long way to go.”
Captain Bibras Natcho was all smiles after Friday’s contest.
“This was a very positive game for us, both from an offensive and defensive point of view. We were able to implement what we wanted to throughout the course of the game. Of course, we could have done things a bit better and Scotland didn’t have one chance until the penalty. There are things to improve and we will work on them slowly, but surely.”
“I don’t believe that there will be any connection between the games,” explained Natcho referring to next month’s game back in Scotland. “I don’t know what will be or who will even play as a lot of things can change in a month. But this game does give us hope and belief that away from home we can stand up to them. However, it will be a totally different story.”