Soccer: Disappointment for Israel's youngsters

Israel's Under-21 team loses 1-0 against Holland in European Championship.

U-21 peretz 298.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
U-21 peretz 298.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel's Under-21 team began its European Championship campaign in disappointing fashion on Sunday night, losing 1-0 to defending champion Holland in the tournament opener. There had massive anticipation before the match, the first time an Israeli soccer team had played in a major international competition since the 1976 Olympic Games. But, if Sunday's performance is anything to go by, the Under-21 team is in for a difficult week. Hedwiges Maduro scored the only goal of the match in the 10th minute, leaving Israel to chase the hosts for the remainder of the game. Throughout the remaining 80 minutes Holland seemed far closer to scoring its second goal than Israel was to getting the equalizer, and only good fortune and a solid goalkeeping performance by Tom Almadon made sure the visitors ended the match with a respectable score-line. Sunday's result at the Abe Lenstra Stadium in Heerenveen means that Israel must go undefeated in its next two Group A matches, against Belgium on Wednesday and Portugal on Saturday, if it's to reach the semifinals and book a place at next years Beijing Olympics. "I'm proud of my players. We haven't lost hope yet," Israel coach Guy Levy said after the match. "We were unlucky not to score against a superb team. The players shouldn't be disappointed. In a tournament you always have to look ahead to your next match. Holland lost its first match of last years competition and ended up winning the whole thing. Maybe that will happen to us as well." The hosts got off to the brighter start and registered their first shot on goal in the third minute when defender Ron Vlaar shot high over Almadon's goal. Holland continued to have the lion's share of possession in the following minutes, but Israel nevertheless reached its best chance of the first half in the seventh minute. Eliran Danin crossed the ball accurately to Omer Peretz, who could do no better than blast his shot wide of Boy Waterman's goal. The visitors were punished immediately at the other end, with poor defending by Peretz costing the team dearly. Maduro easily beat the Israel midfielder to Royston Drenthe's cross and tucked the ball under the helpless Almadon. The Dutch were content with their slender lead, but Israel failed to take advantage of its superior possession and came no where near scoring a precious equalizer. Maceo Rigters almost scored the Dutch's second goal in the 31st minute when his right footed shot went just wide of post and seven minutes later only luck kept Israel in the match. Two minutes into the second half Peretz had the chance to redeem himself, but the Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder shot poorly and Waterman collected the ball easily. Israel's good start to the second half raised the hope that the national team would somehow score an equalizer, however the side struggled as the match progressed and the Dutch began to dominate the play. In the final 10 minutes of the match, Drenthe terrorized the tiring Israel defense and was unlucky not to add his name to the score sheet. Twice in two minutes Almadon denied the hosts midfielder, but the damage had already been done and Israel fell to a painful defeat.