Slovenia defeated Israel 3-2 in a dramatic 2020 European Championship qualifying match in Ljubljana late Monday night as the blue-and-white’s hopes of advancing dimmed with four games remaining in the campaign.
Benjamin Verbic headed home the winner in the 90th minute after blue-and-white midfielder Beram Kayal carelessly turned the ball over to allow the Slovenians to take the three points.
Verbic opened the scoring for Slovenia with a first-half strike, but tremendous goals by Bibras Natcho and Eran Zahavi gave Israel a shock second-half lead. However, Roman Bezjak drew the hosts even soon thereafter and Verbic nodded in his second of the match late to send the Slovenian faithful into ecstasy.
Israel dropped to fifth place in Group G with eight points as Poland sits atop the standings with 13 points followed by Slovenia with 11 points, Austria (10 points) and North Macedonia, which also has eight points. The blue-and-white will be back in action in October when it visits Austria and then hosts Latvia, which is in the group’s basement with no points.
“We say this is good and this is good,” said an animated Andi Herzog “But we always concede three goals and we are not professional enough. When you see the third goal it was horrible. We’re always talking about qualification, but two mistakes like we made makes it impossible. Honestly it’s not possible.
“We had a real good game against a big team that won against Poland and we were better than Poland and we lost the game again. We always talk about something that we dream about, but we have to do the decisive things on the field and when we make stupid mistakes we lose the game and it’s not funny anymore.”
A thoroughly disappointed Zahavi also spoke about the game.
“I don’t want to blame anyone, but this was a tough one. It may be my last chance to make it to a big tournament. We were dominant and we played dominant football. But we made a tough mistake as we also did last game. We’re just not there.”
Zahavi understood Herzog’s frustration.
“He’s right and I understand him. We are playing well under him and we have been battling. But we pay for every little mistake and we have to correct them. The goal I scored could have been a dream goal, but now that goal means nothing.”
Slovenia swarmed the Israeli midfield early on which created a turnover, but Roman Bezjak’s dangerous chance was brilliantly kick saved by Ofir Marciano in the fifth minute. Once the blue-and-white settled down, Zahavi’s opportunity cleared the bar at the other end of the pitch.
The two sides traded chances over the next 15 minutes, with Shon Weissmann creating a pair of opportunities for Herzog’s squad. The hosts began to threaten once again, but Andraz Sporar and Josip Ilicic missed the target.
However, just before the halftime break, Slovenia took a 1-0 lead as Verbic latched onto a pass from Ilicic and easily went around the Israel defense to chip the ball over Marciano.
Herzog inserted Kayal in favor of Omri Ben Harush to start the second half in a move that paid immediate dividends. In the 50th minute, Kayal handed off a short corner to Manor Solomon, who in turn sent it to Natcho, and the captain drilled the ball past a helpless Jan Oblak from 25 meters out to draw Israel even at 1-1.
The blue-and-white continued to push as Herzog made his second substitute of the contest in the 60th minute, bringing in on Monas Dabbur in place of Shon Weissmann, and once again Israel’s coach hit the jackpot.
Dabbur freed up Zahavi, who launched a missile from just outside the box directly into the top corner of the goal to give the visitors a 2-1 lead in the 63rd minute.
But the advantage lasted all of three minutes as an active Bezjak bounced the ball behind Marciano off a cross from Sporar.
End-to-end action littered the pitch over the final 25 minutes with chances at both ends as Israel ’keeper Marciano was called upon time and time again to make tremendous saves as time wound down.
However, as the clock hit the 90th minute, Jasmin Kurtic took advantage of a Kayal miscue to send a pinpoint perfect cross to Verbic, who headed the ball home to complete a brace and snatch the victory.