The Last Word: Time for a change

To score three goals at home and still lose is nothing short of an embarrassment.

jeremy last 88 (photo credit: )
jeremy last 88
(photo credit: )
You can't say we didn't warn you. All that euphoria about Israel's first three Euro 2008 qualifiers and this team being the best for years came undone on Wednesday night. The skillful Croatians competed with and beat the Israeli players in attack, midfield and of most obviously defense. Israel may have scored three goals, but an impressive 13-match home unbeaten streak was snapped due to an embarrassing defensive display that allowed four goals. To score three goals at home and still lose is nothing short of an embarrassment. There is little doubt that the Omri Afek experiment will now be shelved, although we cannot be so sure that he won't continue playing out of position for his club, Betar. You have to feel for poor Tomer Ben-Yosef, who had a solid game apart from his appalling back pass which led to the Croatian penalty. Who knows how Dudu Awat, the self-confessed best goalkeeper in the world, managed to get away with only a yellow card. It would probably have been a lot better had the La Caru a shot-stopper been given his marching orders because he had an atrocious game. Although Awat saved a couple of shots, his failure to prevent the other three goals made him look amateurish at times. And the usually unflappable Tal Ben-Haim, who performs week-in and week-out for Bolton in the English Premier League, looked entirely out of sorts. On the left side of the defense, it became clear that Adoram Keisi is getting too old and off the pace. All in all, not a great back four and not the way to win international matches. Not that the rest of the team was much good for most of the match. Since the games against France and Ireland a yearand-a-half ago, Yossi Benayoun has appeared to find it difficult to reproduce his club form for the national team. He may be close to becoming a star in East London but for Israel, Benayoun often fails to make much of an impact. True, he scored a quality goal, but besides that, he was less than penetrating. To say nothing of Betar's Michael Zandberg, who was so invisible he might have well stayed at home. Luckily, there are more than four months until the next Euro 2008 qualifier, and that's the big one - the game against England. It's time for Dror Kashtan to take a long, hard look at his squad and promote some of the youngsters to the first team and replace the under-performers. The match in March is one of the most eagerly anticipated to take place in this country for many years. Another fortunate point for the Israelis is the dreadful performances of the England team of late. At least Israel managed to score against Croatia - England lost 2-0 in Zagreb, with one goal coming from a bizarre back pass by Manchester United's Gary Neville. Last week, this column touched on the potential atmosphere expected at the England game, especially with the pre-sales of the five-game tickets. One thing that is worrying is the potential influx of England supporters. Of course, there will be many Jewish English football fans flying in for the game. But is the hardcore England fans that we should be worried about. As much as the publicity for the last World Cup in Germany this past summer focused on a lack of hooliganism, a BBC documentary later showed how prevalent it still is among England supporters. Standing outside the Tel Aviv beachfront pubs on March 26 last year, it was obvious that the thousands of Irish fans who had travelled to Israel to cheer on their team - which eventually drew 1-1 with Israel - were full of good spirits and only out to have a good time, spending most of the day drinking. The same cannot be said of many England fans. The game will also be played on a Saturday night and the English will have all afternoon to fill up on beer, which is a concern. Good thing the Tel Aviv police have time to prepare for the English invasion. Let's hope its a peaceful one.