2-1 victory by the hosts all but ends blue-and-white's chances of reaching World Cup.
By ALLON SINAIPublished: APRIL 2, 2009 00:42Advertisement
Israel's dream of qualifying for a first World Cup in 40 years was pretty much dashed on Wednesday night after the national team suffered a 2-1 defeat to Greece in Crete.
There were high hopes Israel would reach the World Cup in South Africa next summer after it was handed the best draw it could have wished for. The team also got its campaign off to a decent start, picking up eight points from its first four matches, raising the expectations to an almost unprecedented level ahead of its two games against Greece.
However, a 1-1 draw against the Greeks in Ramat Gan on Saturday put Israel in a difficult situation, and WednesdayÂ¹s loss now leaves the national team with an almost impossible task to progress to the World Cup.
With four more matches remaining in its qualifying campaign, Israel trails both Greece and Switzerland by four points, and after WednesdayÂ¹s results in Group 2, was overtaken even by Latvia, falling to fourth in the standings.
Switzerland defeated Moldova 2-0 on Wednesday, with Latvia beating Luxembourg by the same score.
"I was taught that in sports itÂ¹s not over until itÂ¹s over," national team coach Dror Kashtan said after the match. Â³We still have four matches to play and there might be surprises in the group."
Despite the loss, Kashtan was pleased with his side's performance.
"Israel controlled the match," the coach said. "I'm disappointed with the result, but certainly not disappointed with my players and with their ability."
Israel's next qualifier is against Latvia at home on September 5, followed by home matches against Luxembourg and Moldova. The national team will complete its campaign with a road match in Switzerland on October 14.
Israel began WednesdayÂ¹s match without the sick and injured Yossi Benayoun, but got off to an encouraging start. Its neat passing gave reason for optimism, but the team failed to create scoring opportunities and the hosts soon seized control.
In the 11th minute, the Israeli defense failed to clear Giorgos Karagounis's free kick and was very fortunate that defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos squandered a superb opportunity, blasting a free shot from the center of the box high above Dudu Aoute's goal.
Greece was far from impressive and rarely threatened Aoute's goal, but unlike Israel, it at least pushed forward and eventually got its reward in the 32nd. As is often the case, Israel had trouble clearing a set-piece, and Dimitris Salpigidis made KashtanÂ¹s side pay.
The visitors couldn't clear a corner and Salpigidis picked the ball up on the edge of the area and released an unstoppable shot with his second touch to give the hosts the lead.
With the team struggling to reach scoring chances, Kashtan had no choice but to use his substitutions, replacing Yoav Ziv with Elyaniv Barda in the 40th minute and subbing Ben Sahar for Benayoun at halftime.
Kashtan's gamble paid off in the 59th minute, when Barda made the most of some poor Greek defending and blasted in the equalizer. Israel suddenly looked the better team on the pitch, with the Greeks shell-shocked from conceding the goal.
However, in the 65th minute the visitors regained control of the proceedings, thanks to Biram KiyalÂ¹s lapse in concentration.
The Maccabi Haifa midfielder brought down Karagounis with a needless foul just inside the box and Georgios Samaras converted the spot kick with ease. Greece's victory was never under any doubt after that and Israel will likely have to wait at least another four years until it returns to play in the World Cup for the first time since 1970.
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