Pair of late tallies lift blue-and-white in Belfast

Even as Portugal wins, Israel remains 2nd in group on goal difference after blanking Northern Ireland.

Israel National Team's Eden Ben-Basat 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel National Team's Eden Ben-Basat 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel bounced back from the heartbreaking draw against Portugal with a 2- 0 victory over Northern Ireland in Belfast on Tuesday night, remaining in second place in Group F of 2014 World Cup qualification.
Northern Ireland dominated the encounter played in freezing conditions in Windsor Park, but Israel still claimed three points it scarcely deserved thanks to excellent finishes by Lior Rafaelov (77) and Eden Ben-Basat (84).
The win keeps Israel ahead of Portugal on goal difference, with the Portuguese beating Azerbaijan 2-0 in Baku on Tuesday.
“I’m proud to be the Israel coach,” said Israel coach Eli Gutman. “The players picked up four points in two matches and very nearly took six. The squad showed its character and they deserve all the credit. The conditions were very difficult but we came through.”
The dejecting draw against Portugal didn’t seem to affect Israel at the start of the match, with Itay Shechter, who started in place of the suspended Tomer Hemed, coming centimeters away from breaking the deadlock after less than four minutes, hitting the post from close range following a swift team move.
However, the hosts soon seized control, dominating the midfield and denying Israel any significant possession.
After his mistake in Ramat Gan on Friday gifted Portugal its 93rd-mintue equalizer, Dudu Aouate redeemed himself slightly with a superb reflex save in the 31st minute.
Steven Davis had only the ‘keeper to beat from less than five meters out, but he fired straight at Aouate and Yuval Shpungin cleared Shane Ferguson’s rebound off the line.
The hosts created little else in the remainder of the first half, but they remained in complete control after the break.
Maor Melikson squandered a promising chance to net the opener eight minutes into the second half, but Israel very rarely ventured forward, allowing the Northern Irish to dictate matters.
Nevertheless, the hosts created little against Israel’s dense defense and the national team struck twice on the break to clinch all three points.
Seven minutes after coming on as a substitute, Rafaelov was perfectly placed to pick up a ball flicked on by Shechter and he broke the deadlock with a clinical finish with his left foot.
Seven minutes later, Shechter did all the hard work down the right flank and squared the ball for the incoming Ben- Basat who scored for the fourth straight qualifier to ensure Israel claimed a confidence- boosting win on the road.
Earlier Tuesday, under-pressure Portugal shrugged off the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo by securing a 2-0 victory over 10-man Azerbaijan thanks to goals from Bruno Alves and Hugo Almeida.
The win meant Portugal, who has not missed a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup in France, moved onto 11 points from six matches.
The result also put an end to a fivegame winless streak which Portugal had failed to break last Friday when they stumbled to 3-3 draw in Israel.
Ronaldo, watching in the stands because of a suspension picked up in Tel Aviv, saw Azerbaijan’s defensive heroics fall apart after forward Rauf Aliyev was sent off for a second yellow card early into the second half.
Portugal took advantage soon after when Bruno Alves, who scored the opener in Israel, sprinted towards a Joao Moutinho corner and towered above the Azeri defence to head in after 63 minutes.
Substitute Hugo Almeida then finished off Azerbaijan with an easy header in the box from a Fabio Coentrao cross with 10 minutes to go.
Russia top the group in the automatic qualification spot with 12 points from four matches.
Reuters contributed to this report.