Euro qualifier: Croatia too fast, too strong for Israel

Poor defensive effort in 4-3 loss leaves Israel with little hope for Euro 2008.

israel croatia soccer  (photo credit: AP)
israel croatia soccer
(photo credit: AP)
Israel's dream of qualifying for Euro 2008 suffered a huge blow on Wednesday night when the national soccer team lost 4-3 to Croatia at National Stadium in Ramat Gan. A woeful defensive display by Israel killed any hope the team had of getting a positive result and, despite scoring three times against a team that had not conceded a goal in its first three qualifiers, the final score was no more than the blue-and-white deserved. Eduardo Da Silva scored a hat-trick for the visitors and was one step ahead of the Israeli defense all night long. Israel took the lead in the eighth minute of the match after an awful mixup by the Croatian defense. However, two goals in the space of three minutes gave the visitors a lead they wouldn't relinquish, and, despite the hosts pulling to within one goal twice in the second half, the Croats' win was never under any real threat. "We began the match well and led, but paid the price for making mistakes. It's very disappointing to lose at home," Israel coach Dror Kashtan said after the match. "We are only in the fourth round of qualifying matches and I'm still hopeful that the race for qualification will continue to be tight until the end." The loss ended Israel's 13-match unbeaten streak in European championship and World Cup qualifiers and was also the side's first loss at home in an official match in seven years. "Three goals at home should be enough to win the match," Israel goalkeeper Dudu Awat said after the match. "We are disappointed, but not broken. We will go all out for the win in our next match against England." Israel is scheduled to face England in Ramat Gan on March 24, 2007. The blue-and-white dropped to fourth place in Group E after Russia's 2-0 win against Macedonia, with Croatia opening a two-point lead at the top with 10 points. "This was a great win. Every point is so important in the qualifying group," Croatia coach Slaven Bilic said after the match. "We knew that they have some really skillful players up front. We are very satisfied and know that we are in a really good position." Croatia had the first chance of the match after five minutes when Luka Modric easily broke through the Israel defense, but failed to chip the ball over 'keeper Dudu Awat. Three minutes later, Israel took the lead thanks to a piece of good fortune. Josip Simunic passed the ball back to 'keeper Vedran Runje, who was not in place to collect the ball, and Roberto Colautti completed the simple task of tapping the ball in from the goal line. The hosts failed to build on their lead and Croatia began to press Israel to its goal. In the 23rd minute, Darijo Srna's cross flew across the face of goal, but lacked a finishing touch and was cleared by the defense. Eight minutes later, the visitors were denied only by an Awat save of a powerful, left-footed shot by Niko Kranjcar. Croatia seized control of the match and the equalizer seemed inevitable. The visitors finally scored in the 36th minute after an awful back pass by Tomer Ben-Yosef left Awat with no option but to bring down Mladen Petric in the box. Srna converted the penalty and the score was tied. The visitors continued to dominate play and just three minutes later, took the lead. Eduardo Da Silva did not give Awat a chance after he flew past Omri Afek on the right flank and clinically slotted the ball into the corner of the net. Kashtan brought in forward Toto Tamuz for midfielder Walid Badier at the start of the second half with the hope that an offensive substitution would boost Israel's poor attacking. However, nine minutes after Tamuz came on, Croatia scored its all-important third goal. A Da Silva header was well-saved by Awat, but the Brazilian-born Croatian was in place to score from the rebound and give his side a two-goal cushion. Israel pulled a goal back in the 68th minute after Adoram Keisi passed to Yossi Benayoun, who volleyed the ball in and raised hopes for a comeback. However, four minutes later, Da Silva was on hand once again to complete his hat-trick from five meters out. The visitors' fourth goal killed any chance Israel had of salvaging any points from the match and Colautti's goal in the 89th minute was nothing more than consolation on a bitter night in Ramat Gan. Jeremy Last contributed to this report.