Israel wins, but WCup remains a pipe dream

Israel wins, but WCup re

Any lingering hope Israel still had of reaching next summer's World Cup faded even further on Saturday night. The national team defeated Moldova 3-1 at National Stadium in Ramat Gan, but Greece's 5-2 victory over Latvia in Athens and Switzerland's 3-0 win in Luxembourg mean Dror Kashtan's men require nothing short of a sporting miracle on Wednesday to finish second in Group 2 and advance to the playoffs. Israel not only needs to defeat Switzerland on the road in its final qualifier, which seems highly unlikely considering the team's away record in recent years, but also for Greece to draw or lose at home against lowly Luxembourg, another improbable result. Nevertheless, Kashtan is refusing to give up just yet. "I'm preparing the team for the match against Switzerland," he said. "We want to win our match and what ever needs to happen will happen. This is not the time to sum up the campaign. We will do that when it is over." Just 8,749 Israel fans bothered to turn-up at Ramat Gan, and for much of the match they probably also questioned their decision. The national team was once more far from impressive, but did enough to defeat a weak Moldova team, with Elyaniv Barda scoring twice (21, 69) and Dedi Ben-Dayan finding the back of the net in the 65th minute. Denis Calincov scored for the visitors in the final seconds of the encounter, an appropriate ending to Israel's final home match of the campaign. "The match was very poor," Kashtan said. "It is not a nice feeling to play in front of empty stands. But we won and that is just as important." Israel got off to a decent start and should have taken the lead in the seventh minute. After some good buildup play, Yossi Benayoun placed a powerful effort on goal, but 'keeper Stanislav Namasco was up to the task and kept the score level. In the 21st minute, the hosts converted their superior possession into a goal. Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder Gili Vermut crossed the ball accurately after some patient passing and Barda had no trouble diving in and giving Israel the lead. The national team was surely expecting the floodgates would open after it broke the deadlock, but it was Moldova which had the better of the remainder of the first half. Four minutes after conceding, the visitors squandered a golden opportunity to equalize, with Victor Bulat wasting Igor Bugaiov's perfectly timed pass. Ten minutes later, Israel goalkeeper Dudu Aoute was beaten, but fortunately for the hosts, Benayoun was well-placed on the goal line to clear Veaceslav Sofroni's header from a corner kick. Israel remained apathetic despite Moldova's near misses and was fortunate to go into the break still in the lead. Alexandru Epureanu lost his marker, but he sent his shot just centimeters above Aoute's crossbar two minutes from the interval. Despite Moldova controlling the play at the beginning of the second half, two Israel goals in the space of four minutes would guarantee the team claimed all three points. In the 65th, Ben-Dayan pounced first and scored his first Israel goal in 23 international appearances. Four minutes later, Barda scored his second goal of the match and 10th in 18 Israel appearances with a clinical finish, clinching the victory. In Athens, Theofanis Gekas scored four goals to lead Greece to a 5-2 win. The Bayer Leverkusen striker scored in the fourth minute from a cross by Giorgos Karagounis, added an equalizing penalty in the 47th, headed in another goal 10 minutes later and collected his fourth in injury time. Maris Verpakovskis, who plays for Greek side Ergotelis, had scored for Latvia in the 12th and 40th minutes. In the Josy Barthel Stadium in Luxembourg, defender Philippe Senderos scored with two headers in the first eight minutes to lead Switzerland to a 3-0 win. The Swiss were clearly keen to score early, partly because the mostly part-timers from the Grand Duchy had handed Switzerland the most embarrassing defeat in its century-old history last year, beating them 2-1 in Zurich. Since then, former Bayern Munich coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has led the Swiss to the top of their group. AP contributed to this report