International Soccer: Israel disappoints in Finland

National team beaten 2-0 in its final friendly game before the World Cup qualification campaign.

benayoun belarus 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
benayoun belarus 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
On the evidence of Wednesday night's performance in Finland, Israel can say goodbye to any hopes it had of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup finals. The national team was beaten 2-0 by the Finns in its final friendly game before the World Cup qualification campaign begins in two-and-a-half weeks. Former Charlton Athletic striker Jonatan Johansson did the damage for the home team in Tampere, scoring with a well-timed header at the end of each half. While the Israelis vastly improved in the second half, a supposedly talented strike force that included Borussia Monchengladbach's Roberto Colautti and Portsmouth's Ben Sahar, was unable to put the ball in the back of the net when it had the chance. Israel kicks off its South Africa 2010 qualifying campaign against Switzerland on September 6 at National Stadium in Ramat Gan. The first half was nothing less than appalling for the visitors, who were lucky to go in at half time only a goal down. Coach Dror Kashtan's players showed they had learned very little in the five days they had been together at a training camp in Finland in the lead up to this match, allowing their opponents to run rings round them. Betar Jerusalem's Aviram Bruchian was nowhere to be seen for most of the half, as was his midfield teammate, captain Yossi Benayoun. And Colautti spent most of his 45 minutes on the field getting caught offside. The central defensive partnership of Avi Strul and Tal Ben-Haim displayed little understanding, with the Manchester City center back at fault for the first goal. After weathering the early storm, Johansson had no problems heading home a cross from the right hand side of the penalty area in the 42nd minute while Ben-Haim got caught up with Betar Jerusalem right back Shmuel Kozikin who was making his international debut. It was far from Finland's first opportunity and Bruchian's best moment of the game had come ten minutes earlier when he saved a header off the line from former Chelsea striker Mikael Forssell. The introduction of Maor Buzaglo and Sahar for Bruchian and Colautti at half time changed the game. In the second half Israel was by far the better team, carving out numerous opportunities, but never making the most of them, a problem which could prove crucial in the upcoming qualifiers. Bolton Wanderers goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen put in a characteristically strong showing between the sticks for Finland, denying Sahar on a number of occasions. Perhaps Israel deserved a goal in the second half but it was the perseverance and patience of the Finns which paid off when Johansson turned the ball past substitute Israeli goalkeeper with two minutes to go. The cross had come from a free kick taken by veteran former Liverpool forward Jari Litmanen who came on as a second half substitute at the age of 37 to win his 116th cap.