Playing for pride, Israel blanks Malta

In coaching swan-song, Fernandez leads blue-and-white to victory in final qualifier.

Rafaelov and Buzaglo 311 (photo credit: Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters)
Rafaelov and Buzaglo 311
(photo credit: Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters)
Israel’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign ended on a winning note on Tuesday night after the national team defeated Malta 2-0 at the Ta’Qali Stadium.
The victory ensured the blue-andwhite finished Group F in third place, but Israel’s performance was an appropriate finale to a bitterly frustrating campaign.
Israel lost any hope of finishing among the top two in the group with consecutive defeats to Greece and Croatia in early September, and the most important part of Tuesday’s match in Malta was the final whistle, as it allows the national team to turn its focus to its first 2014 World Cup qualifier next September.
There will likely be little improvement in the quality of the playing staff by then, but coach Luis Fernandez is set to leave and Israel fans will be confident the next coach will be able to get more out of the team when it comes up against Portugal, Russia, Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg.
Fernandez continued to experiment on Tuesday even in what was likely his final match as Israel coach, starting Ashdod SC midfielder Nir Biton in the center of defense.
Michael Mifsud squandered a good chance for the Maltese in the fourth minute and Israel would take the lead seven minutes later, with Lior Rafaelov scoring with an acrobatic effort after some excellent build-up play by leftback Taleb Tawatha.
Malta came tantalizingly close to equalizing in the 72nd minute when Ryan Fenech’s header hit the underside of the crossbar.
However, Israel wouldn’t pay the price for living dangerously and clinched the win in the third minute of stoppage time thanks to Rami Gershon’s header.
Greece finished top of Group F and secured an automatic berth for the European Championships on Tuesday, with striker Angelos Charisteas scoring a late winner on his international comeback to give the Greeks a hard-earned 2- 1 victory over Georgia.
Greece scored twice in the final 11 minutes after David Targamadze had fired the hosts into a 19th minute lead.
Substitute Giorgos Fotakis leveled for the 2004 European champion on 79 minutes and Charisteas struck five minutes from time on his return to the squad for the first time since the 2010 World Cup.
Greece, which finished the group unbeaten in its 10 games, ends with 24 points with Croatia second on 22 following its 2-0 home win over Latvia.
France, Denmark, Sweden and Russia all qualify on final day
Michael Krohn-Dehli and Nicklas Bendtner struck to lift Denmark to a 2-1 win over Portugal on Tuesday and a place in next year’s European Championship.
Ronaldo, ineffective throughout, scored a consolation for Portugal with a trademark dipping free kick at the start of stoppage time but it was too late for the visitors who will go into the playoffs.
Edin Dzeko gave Bosnia a 40th minute lead in Paris, but France advanced thanks to Samir Nasri’s 78th minute penalty.
Bosnia will play in the playoffs.
Russia secured a place in the Euro 2012 finals with a 6-0 thrashing of Andorra in its final qualifier to finish top of Group B.
Sweden came from behind to beat Netherlands 3-2 to book its place as the qualifying competition’s best runner- up.
The Dutch had already qualified, winning nine qualifiers on the trot to secure top spot in Group E.
Turkey secured a place in the playoffs after a Burak Yilmaz second-half goal earned Guus Hiddink’s side a 1-0 win over Azerbaijan on Tuesday, moving it into second place in Group A.
Euro 2008 semifinalists Turkey needed a win to ensure a definite place in the playoffs but Belgium’s 3-1 loss to group winners Germany meant a draw would have sufficed.
Germany completed a perfect qualifying campaign with the win over Belgium.
Spain capped a perfect campaign in Group I with a 3-1 win over Scotland.
The Czech Republic advanced to the playoffs from Group I.
Estonia and Ireland will also take part in the playoff draw after finishing second in Group C and B, respectively.
Reuters contributed to this report