World Cup Soccer: Deflated Israelis return with tails between legs
After crushing loss to Greece, Benayoun admits qualification talk is 'funny and unrealistic.'
By ALLON SINAI
Israel coach Dror Kashtan might have tried to put a positive twist on Wednesday's 2-1 defeat to Greece, but his players' faces revealed all.
The bitter disappointment of seeing their dreams of leading the national team to a first World Cup finals in 40 years all but end in Crete was clearly evident on the players' expressions, even if the words coming out of their coach's mouth suggested differently.
"It isn't over until it's over. We still have four matches to play and even though it doesn't look good anything can happen," Kashtan said at the post-match press conference, trying to convince the media, and probably also himself, that Israel is still in the hunt.
Captain Yossi Benayoun, however, didn't hide from the painful truth.
"It's difficult to talk now of our chances of qualifying. It would be funny and unrealistic to speak about it," a downcast Benayoun said. "We missed a great chance. We're just as good as Greece and Switzerland."
Wednesday's results in Group 2 leave Israel in fourth position in the standings with nine points, four behind both Greece and Switzerland and one back of Latvia.
The national team hosts Latvia in its next qualifier on September 5, before facing Luxembourg and Moldova at Ramat Gan on September 9 and October 10 respectively.
Israel ends its qualifying campaign with a road match at Switzerland on October 14, although that may end up being a meaningless fixture for the team, as by then, the blue-and-white could well be out of contention to claim even second position in the group, which leads to a qualifying playoff, not to mention first place and the automatic qualification that comes with it for South Africa next summer.
"We're all very sad," goalkeeper Dudu Aoute said on Thursday upon his arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport. "We knew this was a critical match and that we were playing for the fate of an entire campaign. We now have to win our four remaining matches and pray for a small miracle.
"I think we still have a chance, but the loss in Greece diminished it significantly."
Betar Jerusalem defender Arik Benado, Israel's most capped player with 94 international appearances, wasn't in Kashtan's squad for the matches against Greece, which is perhaps why he summed up best the national team's failure.
"Everyone thought that this time we would succeed," Benado said on Thursday. "We were handed a good draw and it's a shame we've reached this situation. Greece wasn't at its best and we could have done it, but now we'll have to wait until the next campaign.
"Everyone had high expectations, but as usual it didn't work out. We've been trying for all these years and haven't succeeded, so we're obviously not good enough.
"There most be some mental problem because otherwise we're just as good as Greece and Switzerland. We always come close and look pretty good on the pitch, but then concede stupid goals."
var cont = `Sign up for The Jerusalem Post Premium Plus for just $5
Upgrade your reading experience with an ad-free environment and exclusive content