Int'l Soccer: Resilient Israel battles past Macedonia

First-half goals from Itzhaki and Colautti help Israel to 2-1 win and ensure it still has an outside chance of reaching Euro 2008.

balili 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
balili 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel ensured it still has an outside chance of reaching Euro 2008 after defeating Macedonia 2-1 in Skopje on Saturday night. Israel, which played without the suspended Yossi Benayoun and Tal Ben-Haim on Saturday, twice hit the hosts on the break, with Barak Itzahki and Roberto Colautti scoring the goals that secured the win. The national team, which has now collected 14 points in seven qualifiers, faces Andorra on Wednesday, ahead of two road matches against England (September 8) and Croatia (October 17), which will determine the fate of its qualifying campaign. "This is a very important away win," coach Dror Kashtan said after the match. "Now we need to concentrate on the match against Andorra and if we win on Wednesday we can start thinking ahead. The team was tactically sound, but the effort put in by the players was what won us the match." The hosts should have taken the lead as early as the third minute, but midfielder Velice Sumulikoski ballooned his shot from two meters out. Israel was content on hitting Macedonia on the break and a swift move down the left flank would give the team the lead. Idan Tal crossed the ball accurately for Itzhaki, who powerfully headed the ball beyond keeper Jane Nikoloski. Less than three minutes later, however, the teams were back on level terms after some poor defending by Kashtan's back four. Striker Aco Stojkov was given time and space by the Israeli defenders and easily volleyed in the equalizer from the center of the box. In the 19th minute Itzhaki, who was by far Israel's most dangerous player, was only denied his second by a goal line clearance from his former Betar Jerusalem teammate Igor Mitreski. The hosts had the lion's share of possession in the remainder of the first half, but Israel led at the interval. Two minutes from the break Pini Balili crossed the ball for Roberto Colautti, who took advantage of a lapse of concentration in the Macedonian defense, and gave the visitors the lead with a looping header. The Macedonians surged ahead in search of an equalizer at the start of the second half and almost scored their second goal of the match in the 52nd minute. Substitute Stevica Ristic was first to Goran Pandev's cross, but failed to get the better of Dudu Awat, who was well placed to collect the ball. The hosts continued to dominate and in the 72nd minute were denied a goal by a Keinan goal line clearance. Stojkov's back heel got the better of Awat, but the Maccabi Haifa defender was well placed and cleared the danger, helping Israel keep the lead until the final whistle.