Blue-and-white nips Latvia to stay in hunt

Bloomfield victory eases pressure on Fernandez as Kiyal notches 2-1 winner in 81st.

israel latvia 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
israel latvia 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel kept alive its slim hopes of qualifying for Euro 2012 on Saturday night, beating Latvia 2-1 at Bloomfield Stadium thanks to Biram Kiyal’s 81stminute winner.
The national team got the match off to an encouraging start and took the lead after 16 minutes through Elyaniv Barda’s goal.
However, Israel had little to offer after that, and found itself in deep trouble after Kaspars Gorkss equalized in the 62nd minute.
The visitors almost completed the comeback five minutes later, but Artjoms Rudnevs squandered a golden opportunity and Kiyal came to Israel’s rescue with an important winner.
The victory leaves Israel in fourth position in Group F, but Georgia’s unexpected 1-0 win over Croatia in Tbilisi on Saturday seriously complicated the group and gives added significance to Tuesday’s qualifier between the blue-and-white and Georgia at Bloomfield.
“We gave Latvia hope by failing to score a second goal, but we found the way to comeback to claim a win and recorded a victory we deserved,” Israel coach Luis Fernandez said. “We are facing a very tough match against Georgia, which might be the best team in the group and will be the favorites.
“If we beat Georgia on Tuesday we will be in a good situation.”
Despite handing out over 4,000 tickets, the 14,000 capacity stadium was still far from full, but those who did come out to cheer the national team saw Israel dominate the proceedings from the start.
The hosts reached their first chance of the match after less than two minutes with Latvian goalkeeper Andris Vanins doing well to keep out Lior Rafaelov’s powerful shot from the edge of the area.
Vanins was all that stood between Israel and the opener once more seven minutes later, acrobatically saving Bibras Natcho’s curling effort from 20 meters out.
However, in the 16th minute Israel’s pressure finally paid dividends.
Omer Damari failed to tuck in Rafaelov’s cross, but Barda was on hand to slot in his 12th Israel goal in his 27th appearance.
The national team took its foot off the gas after going in front, but after setting up the opener, Rafaelov very nearly doubled Israel’s lead all by himself in the 36th minute, twisting and turning in the box but shooting high above Vanins’ crossbar.
Israel ’keeper Dudu Aouate was rarely disturbed until the break, with the visitors reaching their one and only chance of the first half six minutes from the interval when Ivans Lukjanovs fluffed his shot from three meters out.
The hosts were more than content to settle for their slender advantage at the start of the second half and they paid the price for their lack of enthusiasm in the 62nd minute.
The Israel defense failed to clear Jurijs Zigajevs’s free kick and Gorkss made the most of the blunder and equalized from close range.
Not long after, Lativa almost took a stunning lead, but fortunately for the blue-and-white, Rudnevs took far too long on the ball, allowing Tal Ben-Haim to clear the danger with a lastditch tackle.
Latvia’s goal forced Fernandez into making changes and Israel began to venture forward once more after the introductions of Ben Sahar and Maor Buzaglo.
Sahar shot just wide from the edge of the box in the 68th minute, with Buzaglo’s attempt missing the upright by centimeters 11 minutes later.
However, a moment of brilliance by Buzaglo in the 81st minute ensured Israel took all three points.
The Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder picked out Kiyal in the box with a delicate chip and the Celtic midfielder headed in the winner to keep Israel in contention for a top-two finish in Group F.