International Soccer: Sweet 16! Assulin debuts in win

Brilliant Benayoun free kick helps Israel to narrow 1-0 victory against Chile in friendly match at Ramat Gan.

assulin 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger )
assulin 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger )
Gai Assulin became the youngest Israeli international ever on Wednesday after coming on in the 79th minute of the national team's 1-0 friendly victory over Chile at Ramat Gan. The Barcelona B player, who will celebrate his 17th birthday on April 9, broke the record set last year by Ben Sahar by 195 days. Despite only being on field for just over 10 minutes, he displayed the skill that has got coach Dror Kashtan dreaming of a bright future for the national team. "Even though he played only a few minutes you could see what he's capable of," Kashtan said after the match. "Assulin is an extraordinary talent, but we must not rush him. He needs to take one step at a time and progress gradually." Chile was in control for most of Wednesday's match, but the only goal of the encounter was scored by Israel captain Yossi Benayoun in the 30th minute with a cheeky free kick. "Chile dominated the possession, but we played well on defense and didn't allow them to convert their control into scoring opportunities," Kashtan said. "There is still plenty to work on and to correct, but we won the match and you're always pleased when you win." Wednesday's friendly was Israel's last match for nearly five months, with Kashtan's men not scheduled to play until their friendly against Finland on August 20. Israel opens its 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign against Switzerland on September 6. The first 30 minutes of the match were lackluster to say the least, but in the 30th minute a moment of brilliance by Benayoun broke the deadlock. The Liverpool midfielder didn't wait for Chile keeper Eduardo Lobos to set-up his wall and to everybody's surprise curled the ball into the corner of the net. Benayoun's goal proved to be the hosts' only shot on goal during the first 45 minutes of the match and Chile almost got a deserved equalizer a minute before halftime. River Plate's Alexis Sanchez found space on the edge of the Israel box, but his powerful shot was parried away by keeper Dudu Awat, insuring the national team took a one goal lead into the break. Chile had the lion's share of the possession at the start of the second half, but Israel should have doubled its lead and buried the match in the 72nd minute. Despite having a four on one advantage Israel couldn't convert its break forward into a goal, with Elyaniv Barda turning over the ball with a poor pass. In the 79th minute the fans finally got their wish when Assulin was brought on for Benayoun. The 16-year-old didn't have enough time to make a significant impression, but did show some sparks of his huge talent and gave Israel supporters plenty to look forward to in the future. Earlier in the evening, Israel's under-21 team recorded a scrappy 1-0 victory over Moldova to move tied on points with Germany at the top of Group 9. Ben Sahar scored the only goal of the match in the sixth minute, insuring Israel remains in contention to qualify for next years European Championships. Wednesday's qualifier was coach's Guy Levy's last in charge, ending an extremely successful four year run. Levy led Israel to its first ever European Championship last summer and guided the team to four win and one draw in its six Euro 2009 qualifiers so far. Israel will complete its qualifying campaign under its new coach in September when it travels to face Luxembourg and Germany.