World Cup: Israel hangs on for tie with Greece

Omer Golan's second-half score rallies home team.

barda israel greece soccer 248 88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
barda israel greece soccer 248 88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel remains in contention to qualify for a first World Cup in 40 years, but its situation in Group 2 was complicated on Saturday night after only managing to draw 1-1 with Greece at National Stadium in Ramat Gan The national team knew that a home victory was crucial to its hopes of playing in South Africa next summer, but didn't deserve more than it got on Saturday and will now likely need to leave Crete with at least one point when it faces Greece on the road on Wednesday. With its qualifying campaign halfway through, Israel finds itself in third position in the group, one point behind both second-placed Switzerland and top-of-the-table Greece. The Greeks took a 1-0 lead into the break on Saturday thanks to Theofanis Gekas's goal, but Israel tied the score in the 56th minute through Omer Golan and despite reaching some good chances, neither side managed to decide the match. "The battle for first position is close and we believe we can still do it," coach Dror Kashtan said. "In the first half the Greeks dominated the match, but in the second half we were back to our usual selves and could have won the encounter." Israel looked edgy from the start and almost suffered an early setback. Dudu Aoute was completely lost in his penalty box, but Greek defender Traianos Dellas failed to find the empty net with his header, with Tal Ben-Haim saving his 'keeper's blushes. The hosts registered their first chance in the 12th minute when Ben-Haim headed a Yossi Benayoun header high. However, Otto Rehhagel's experienced side never lost its composure and had no trouble coping with Israel's pathetic surges forward. Five minutes before the interval, the national team finally recorded a significant scoring opportunity. Ben Sahar got the better of three defenders on the left flank, but failed to complete his moment of brilliance, sending his shot from the edge of box just wide of Konstantinos Chalkias goal. One minute later, Greece grabbed the opener. The Israel defense failed to clear a free kick and Gekas snuck behind the backline and coolly chipped the ball over Aoute. Greece looked to be in total control at the start of the second half and very nearly doubled its lead in the 55th minute. Midfielder Georgios Karagounis was given far too much space on the edge of the Israel box, but fortunately for the hosts his powerful effort went just above Aoute's goal. Just when the local support was beginning to run out of hope a superb move down the right resulted in the equalizer. Sahar started it off, laying the ball for Benayoun, who sent a well timed pass for Golan to tuck beyond Chalkias. Greece twice came close to regaining the lead in the subsequent minutes, courtesy of some poor Israel defending in set-pieces. However, Israel was spared and had a great chance to win the match. In the 76th minute, man of the match, Sahar once more terrorized the Greece defense, and his pass to substitute Barak Itzhaki should have really been converted into the winner. However, the Betar Jerusalem forward failed to beat Chalkias, squandering a golden opportunity to score an historic goal. Beanyoun was forced to leave the pitch soon after, being substituted by Biram Kiyal, and in stoppage time only good fortune denied Greece the victory. Substitute Christos Patsatzoglou's powerful shot was only kept out by an excellent Aoute save and a minute later Israel got away with a point after Angelos Charisteas somehow sent a header wide of the post from two meters out. Also Saturday Switzerland won 2-0 in Moldova and Latvia defeated Luxembourg 4-0 away from home. Jeremy Last contributed to this report.