Ukraine puts damper on Gutman’s debut

After lackluster first half, Israel falls 3-2 on a stormy night in Petah Tikva.

Eli Gutman 311 (photo credit: (Asaf Kliger))
Eli Gutman 311
(photo credit: (Asaf Kliger))
New Israel coach Eli Gutman was given a crash course on the state of the national team on Wednesday night courtesy of a 3- 2 friendly defeat to Ukraine in Petah Tikva.
The miss-timed passes and shambolic defending were all there, as was the blue-and-white’s potentially lethal attack.
None of this will be new to Gutman, but Wednesday’s performance will act as a stark reminder of the magnitude of the task he faces if he’s to realize his dream of leading Israel to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The wet and windy conditions in Petah Tikva were far from ideal, but the wintry weather should be no excuse for Israel’s chronic failings.
Ukraine held a comfortable 2-0 lead at the break, with Israel gifting the visitors both goals.
Oleg Gusev scored from the penalty spot in the 17th minute after Rami Gershon needlessly fouled Andriy Yarmolenko in the box before right-back Yuval Spungin helped set up Ukraine’s second netted by Yevhen Konoplyanka on the brink of halftime.
Israel was far more dangerous after the introduction of striking duo Tomer Hemed and Ben Sahar following the break, with the former scoring from the penalty spot 10 minutes into the second half.
However, just six minutes later, Yarmolenko restored Ukraine’s two-goal cushion and as good as Sahar’s finish was in the 63rd, it is Israel’s disastrous defending that will be remembered from Wednesday’s game.
“I will be sleeping with the disc of this match for a long time to try and learn from our mistakes,” Gutman said. “We didn’t start the match well and couldn’t break the Ukrainians pressure, committing mistakes on defense.
“However, we were a different team in the second half. Some teams would have fallen apart at 3-1, but we maintained our discipline and weren’t far from equalizing.”
Gutman has at least got plenty of time to prepare a plan for a better future with the blue-and-white not getting down to real business until September 7 when it visits Azerbaijan in its first 2014 World Cup qualifier.
“I’m sure we will improve,” said Gutman, whose team visits Germany in its next friendly match on June 1.
“We have a two-week training camp in May and will play more friendlies before we begin our campaign.”
The 7,000 brave souls which came out to see the Gutman era get underway despite the stormy weather almost had something to cheer about in the fifth minute when Gershon sent a header just high.
However, it soon became apparent that the co-host of Euro 2012 could pick apart the Israel defense at will and the visitors took the lead in the 17th minute through Gusev’s penalty after Yarmolenko was brought down in the box by Gershon.
Elyaniv Barda squandered a decent chance from the edge of the box two minutes later and Israel’s lax play in the first half was punished moments before the break.
Spungin turned the ball over to Yarmolenko on the edge of the area and the Ukrainian sent through Konoplyanka, who made no mistake in front of Dudu Aouate.
Gutman’s halftime substitutions revitalized the blue-and-white and Hemed got the hosts back into the game from the penalty spot in the 55th minute after Vitaliy Mandziuk handled the ball in the box. However, a well-worked team move saw Yarmolenko slot in Ukraine’s third six minutes later and Israel never really came close to equalizing despite having half an hour to do so after Sahar’s excellent strike in the 63rd.
“We didn’t start the match well and unfortunately we made mistakes, but that is part of the game,” captain Yossi Benayoun said. “We looked much better in the second half and we play these friendly matches so we can learn from our mistakes and improve.
“We have talented players in the squad and we will slowly understand Eli’s system.
We have only worked together for two days and that is not enough time to learn the system.”