Another World Cup dream ends for Israel

National team only manages 1-1 draw versus Azerbaijan at Ramat Gan; Israel has not qualified for the tournament since 1970.

Israel midfielder Eran Zahavi370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Israel midfielder Eran Zahavi370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
It is that time again.
The time to add four more years to Israel’s World Cup drought.
Any lingering hope Israel may have had of advancing to a first World Cup since 1970 ended on Saturday night following a 1-1 draw against Azerbaijan at National Stadium in Ramat Gan, meaning the blue-and-white will go at least 48 years between qualifying for World Cups.
Even with a win over Azerbaijan, Israel would have still required to at least beat either Russia or Portugal on the road to have any chance of finishing as the group runner-up and progressing to the playoffs.
However, before it plotted how it would stun the Russians or Portuguese, Israel first had to get the better of Azerbaijan and for the second time in its campaign it could only record a draw against a clearly inferior side.
The national team was without seven injured players on Saturday, including strikers Tomer Hemed and Eden Ben- Basat, who had accounted for 10 of the team’s 15 goals in Group F.
However, the side implemented by Gutman on Saturday was still more than capable of overcoming Azerbaijan, only to drop to another dejecting draw and leave the coach to wonder where the blue-and-white goes from here.
“It hurts me that another campaign is over,” said Gutman. “It is true that our group was always going to be tough, but I believed we could do it and we had some nice moments. We also had some not so nice ones, like tonight. As things currently stand, Russia and Portugal will end the group in the first two places, but we will have to play for our pride. This campaign makes me sad. You prepare for months and then it ends like this.”
Israel struggled to threaten Azerbaijan’s goal from the start of the match, with defender Eitan Tibi coming closest to breaking the deadlock in the first half, hitting the post with his shot in the 18th minute.
Eran Zahavi squandered a golden opportunity in the first minute of the second half when he fired straight at Kamran Agayev with only the ‘keeper to beat.
The visitors rarely ventured forward but it was Azerbaijan which took the lead in the 61st minute.
Goalkeeper Dudu Aouate got his hand to Rahid Amirguliyev long-range effort but couldn’t do enough to keep it out.
Israel leveled the score via Itay Shechter in the 73rd minute, but never really came close to scoring a winner, meaning the familiar boos rung around the stadium at the final whistle once more.
“Azerbaijan deserves a lot of credit, but I’m very disappointed,” said Gutman.
“We need to make sure we don’t embarrass ourselves against Russia on Tuesday.”