Israel staggers to the finish line with a draw

Its World Cup chances already shot, blue-and-white disappoints at home in finale vs Northern Ireland.

Israeli soccer star Eden Ben-Basat 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli soccer star Eden Ben-Basat 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel’s 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign ended on a dreary note on Tuesday night after the national team recorded a lackluster 1-1 draw against Northern Ireland at National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
The blue-and-white had nothing to play for on Tuesday other than pride, already securing a third-place finish in Group F with Friday’s surprise 1-1 draw at Portugal.
Nevertheless, Israel will want to quickly forget about its performance on Tuesday after only managing a draw against a team that lost to Luxembourg last month.
Eden Ben-Basat scored in his sixth consecutive qualifier to give Israel a lead it scarcely deserved two minutes from the break. However, Steven Davis equalized for the visitors in the 72nd minute and Israel coach Eli Gutman is facing some anxious weeks before he discovers if he will be handed a contract extension.
“I thought our campaign was quite reasonable,” he said. “We had one low point, which was the 4-0 loss to Russia.
We made changes after that and improved our play. Our biggest problem of the campaign was our inconsistency.”
Russia finished the group in first place and qualified for the World Cup after drawing 1-1 at Azerbaijan. Portugal will play in the playoffs despite beating Luxembourg 3-0.
Israel desperately lacked urgency at the start of the match and Northern Ireland was more than happy to sit back and allow the hosts to aimlessly pass the ball in the center of the field.
The blue-and-white finally began to apply more pressure in the final 10 minutes of the first half, with Maor Melikson, who was one of the three changes made by Gutman to the team that played against Portugal, registering Israel’s first shot on target in the 35th minute.
The breakthrough finally arrived two minutes from the break, with Ben-Basat extending his record scoring streak for the national team.
Right-back Eyal Meshumar supplied an accurate cross and the Toulouse forward left goalkeeper Roy Carroll no chance with his close-range header.
The blue-and-white seemed to be more than content with its slender margin, allowing the visitors all the time and space they could have wished for in the second half.
Israel paid the price for its complacency in the 72nd minute, with Davis blasting the ball into the top right corner after finding himself with a clear shot at goal from the edge of the area.
The hosts would have found themselves in an embarrassing deficit had it not been for goalkeeper Dudu Aouate, who spared the national team’s blushes with a superb save from a Martin Paterson volley in the 77th minute.
Northern Ireland remained the more dangerous team until the final whistle, but the stalemate would not be broken, ensuring neither side recorded a win it didn’t deserve.