International Soccer: World Cup door slams shut on Israel

International Soccer Wo

israel national soccer 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
israel national soccer 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel's 0-0 draw against Switzerland in Basel on Wednesday night only accentuated the fact that a once-in-a-generation opportunity to qualify for the country's first World Cup since 1970 was truly squandered this time around. The national team's disappointing 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign came to an all-too-expected end with the goalless deadlock in Switzerland, in what was likely Dror Kashtan's final official match in charge. Israel knew from the start of the qualification process that this was a real chance to reach a World Cup, but the team only has itself to blame for failing to make the most of being drawn into what was widely considered to have been the weakest European qualifying group. Throughout the past 13 months, Israel never came close to playing to its potential, and the team deserves no better than the fourth place it ended up getting in Group 2. The national team picked up just four of a potential 18 points against the group's top three teams, Switzerland, Greece and Latvia. This statistic was an especially tough pill to swallow, as all three of those sides were mediocre at best, including the Swiss, who qualified automatically for the World Cup on Wednesday after another ordinary showing. Israel had a chance of finishing second in the group and reaching a playoff had it won on Wednesday and Greece failed to defeat Luxembourg at home. However, even if the blue-and-white had claimed all three points at St. Jakob-Park, Greece would have sealed the deal and wrapped up second after scoring two first-half goals to beat Luxembourg 2-1. Vassilis Torosidis scored in the 30th minute and Theofanis Gekas in the 33rd headed home for Greece. Avraam Papadopoulos scored an own goal in the last minute to put Luxembourg on the score sheet. In Basel, the Swiss pushed forward at the start of the match, but Israel held its own and registered the first dangerous chance of the evening in the 18th. Yossi Benayoun broke forward and laid the ball off for Biram Kiyal, who created space on the edge of the Switzerland box, only to send his left-footed shot just wide of Marco Woelfli's goal. The hosts were clearly affected by the occasion and struggled to reach scoring opportunities. In the 27th minute, Gokhan Inler thought he had only 'keeper Dudu Aoute to beat, but a late intervention by Tal Ben-Haim saved Israel's blushes. Tranquillo Barnetta came closest to giving the Swiss the lead before the break, missing the target by centimeters in the 34th minute with his free kick from 20 meters out. The second half seemed to be a continuation of the first, but in the 59th minute Avihai Yadin complicated Israel's situation. The Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder brought down Inler and left the ref with no real option but to show him his second yellow card and send him off. Switzerland would dominate the possession thanks to their one-man advantage, but still rarely threatened Aoute's goal. In the 63rd minute, Eren Derdiyok had time and space at the center of the Israel box, but he somehow failed to place his header on target. As the match drew to a close the Swiss were content with just holding on to the ball and Israel was pleased with winding down the clock on a campaign it will quickly want to forget. Wednesday was a bad day all around for Israeli soccer. The Under-19 team, guided by Eli Ohana, drew 1-1 with Poland in Ness Ziona, picking up its first point in the European Championship qualifiers. Ohana's boys nevertheless finished bottom of Group 13 after losing to both Azerbaijan and Denmark in their first two qualifiers. Israel's Under-17 team, coached by Tal Banin, suffered a humbling 7-0 defeat to Poland and failed to progress from Group 4 after amassing only three points and losing two of its three Euro qualifiers.