Soccer: Israel's World Cup dream shattered

Kashtan, Benayoun admit 'campaign is now over' following 1-0 home loss to Latvia.

israel latvia 248.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
israel latvia 248.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel's World Cup dream ended in embarrassing fashion on Saturday night, with the national team losing 1-0 to Latvia at National Stadium in Ramat Gan. With three more matches remaining in its campaign, Israel still has a theoretical chance of reaching a first World Cup in 40 years. However, considering its performance on Saturday, and the fact that it would need Greece and Switzerland to fail to defeat the likes of Moldova and Luxembourg, it is safe to say the national team will be watching the world's best on TV next summer. Dror Kashtan's men began the match well and should have taken the lead within the first 15 minutes. However, they failed to capitalize on their good start and Kaspars Gorkss headed in the winner in the 59th minute and Israel's hopes of reaching a major tournament once more ended in bitter disappointment. "No one believed we would be in such a position at this stage of the campaign and neither did I," said a downcast Kashtan after the match. "I believed in the national team, but this is part of the game. We haven't reached a World Cup in 40 years and we will have to wait a little longer." Kashtan said he has no intention of quitting and said he will remain at the helm at least until his contract runs out next summer. "This match was a massive disappointment," he said. "I expected to see us play much better. We are out of the race to reach the World Cup and now we need to try and end the campaign in the best way possible." Yossi Benayoun, who waved his hands in disgust and shouted at Kashtan after being substituted in the 66th minute, admitted he had been extremely disappointed with the team's performance. "Of course I was annoyed. This is natural. It was the last 20 minutes of the campaign and I wanted to play," he said. "I didn't do anything extraordinary [in the game] but the campaign was ending and I wanted to be part of it." The captain added he understood the crowd's reaction. "Before the game we knew there was practically no chance but we wanted to try and compete to the last game. It seems it didn't happen because we weren't good enough. Now there is no chance to advance," Benayoun said. "The crowd pushed as much as they could to try and help us score. I also would have booed myself. I am sad and disappointed. I understand that the crowd was disappointed." Yaniv Katan was making a nuisance of himself all over the park in the opening minutes, terrorizing the opposition defense with his incisive runs and pinpoint passing, continuously leading from the center and bringing the likes of Elyaniv Barda and Omer Golan into the action. The home side was in control and came agonizingly close to taking the lead a quarter of an hour in. Dedi Ben-Dayan finished off a beautiful move with a powerful shot from the edge of the area, only to see a Latvian defender manage to get a head in the way at the last second and deflect it away for a corner. The ball just wouldn't go in, and when Barda's header was deflected wide halfway through the half groans could be heard around the less than packed National Stadium. A defensive mix up at the other end nearly gave Latvia a shock lead when Maris Verpakovskis found himself one on one with Dudu Aouate but made a mess of the chance and the game stayed scoreless as it drifted towards half time. As referee Knut Kircher blew for the end of the first 45 minutes, the crowd erupted in boos, showing their frustration at Kashtan's side's poor attempt to overcome a mediocre Eastern European side. The start of the second half showed a few glimpses of hope for the blue and white. Despite the introduction of Bolton Wanderers' Tamir Cohen in place of the ineffective Gal Alberman it was Katan once again running the show, forcing a diving save from goalkeeper Andris Vanins eight minutes in to the second period. Somewhat inevitably the Latvians took the lead through Queens Park Rangers striker Kaspars Gorkss, who headed in from a corner in the 59th minute. Israel had half an hour to salvage its 2010 campaign, but rather than seeing the home team step up to the plate, the now depressed 25,000 crowd saw the team coached by Alexanders Starkovs comfortably hold on to its lead. Kashtan attempted to inject some vigor into his side's performance by bringing on Ben Sahar for Golan. Yossi Benayoun's floated cross which soared over the entire group of players waiting in the penalty box, easily clearing the advertising boards, summed up the Israeli performance. A minute later Benayoun was taken off, shaking his hands in disgust as he was replaced by Betar Jerusalem captain Aviram Bruchian. The Liverpool star was seen shouting at Kashtan and then restrained by second string 'keeper Nir Davidovitch. Israel just wasn't the same after that and the fans showed their disgust at the team's campaign and began to leave the stadium long before the match ended. Standings and Results - Group 2: ---------------------GP W D L GF GA Pts Switzerland-----7--5--1--1--13--6--16 Greece-----------7--4--1--2--12--6--13 Latvia-------------7--4--1--2--11--6--13 Israel-------------7--2--3--2--10--9--9 Luxembourg----7--1--2--4--3--13--5 Moldova----------7--0--2--5--2--11--2 Saturday's results: Israel 0, Latvia 1; Switzerland 2, Greece 0; Moldova 0, Luxembourg 0.