Blue-and-white pulls off stoppage-time win

Rafaelov raises Gutman’s group over Finland with 93rd-minute tally in Netanya friendly.

Israel National Team's LIOR RAFAELOV 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel National Team's LIOR RAFAELOV 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
A 93rd-minute goal by substitute Lior Rafaelov gave Israel a 2-1 victory over Finland in Netanya on Wednesday night in the national team’s final warm-up match ahead of next month’s 2014 World Cup qualifier versus Portugal.
Israel coach Eli Gutman labeled the encounter as a dress rehearsal for the crucial qualifier against the Portuguese and he tested the ultra-defensive formation he intends on using at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on March 22.
Eden Ben-Basat gave Israel the lead in the 2nd minute with his third goal in his past four national team appearances, with Bibras Natcho catching Finland’s defense off guard with a well-measured through ball after taking a quick free kick.
The blue-and-white retreated back after the opener, repelling Finland’s attacks the way it hopes to do against Cristiano Ronaldo and friends next month.
However, should Israel allow Portugal the amount of possession it gifted the Finns on Wednesday it will in all likelihood be punished severely, with Gutman’s men letting the visitors move the ball freely for much of Wednesday’s game.
Israel’s defensive game-plan looked to have even failed against Finland after the visitors netted a deserved equalizer in the 86th minute thanks to Petteri Forsell’s powerful left-footed strike from 20 meters out.
However, with Finland sending players forward in search of a winner, Israel broke swiftly and Rafaelov clinched the team’s first win in six friendly matches under Gutman with a clinical move on the edge of the area.
“We were focusing on our play and not on that of the opponent,” said Rafaelov. “We tried not to open up the match too much because we know that against Portugal they will control the ball most of the time and that will demand of us to defend.”
However, Rafaelov admitted that what barely worked against Finland is unlikely to succeed against Portugal.
“Portugal is a much stronger team than Finland,” he said. “We will have to locate their weaknesses and take advantage of them. Portugal is a much better team than we are and we will need to find a way to surprise them. We are aiming to keep a cleansheet and steal a goal.”
Gutman seemed content with his team’s performance, despite Israel’s complete lack of urgency and attacking flair.
“We had a goal in this match,” he said. “We planned to sit back and try and attack Finland on the break. I’m very pleased that we managed to accomplish most of the parameters we worked on in the past couple of days. I’m not so happy by our transition game and our ball movement.”
Gutman acknowledged that his side failed to entertain the 6,150 fans in Netanya, but he was adamant that the end justified the means.
“This was not a fun match to watch, but the pride we will feel when the national team wins will make up for the lack of beauty in our play,” he said. “Apart from set pieces they never really threatened our goal.
“The goal we conceded also came from a long-range effort. On the other hand, we managed to create several chances on the break.”