Yossi’s hat-trick propels Israel over Malta

Fernandez notches first victory as Benayoun carries blue-and-white in Euro qualifier.

Benayoun 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Benayoun 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Three tallies from Yossi Benayoun ensured Israel began its Euro 2012 campaign on the right foot on Thursday night, with the national team claiming a 3-1 victory over Malta at National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
Benayoun gave Israel the lead in the seventh minute, but Malta scored a stunning equalizer seven minutes from the break, and with the hosts playing so poorly, a disappointing draw didn’t seem out of the question.
However, Benayoun came to new coach Luis Fernandez’s rescue in his first official match in charge, scoring from the penalty spot in the 64th minute and securing the victory with a header 11 minutes later.
Despite the victory, Thursday’s display should certainly worry Fernandez ahead of next week’s match in Georgia, with Israel desperate for a win in Tbilisi in its chase of a top-two finish in Group F, which also includes Croatia, Greece and Latvia.
Israel thought it got off to a flying start on Thursday, but Benayoun’s goal 81 seconds into the match was disallowed after the referee saw the Chelsea midfielder control the ball with his hand.
However, the blue-and-white didn’t have to wait long to take the lead, with the captain scoring the opener after just seven minutes.
Lior Rafaelov spotted the midfield magician on the edge of the box and Benayoun found the back of the net for the 21st time in his international career.
After taking the early lead, the hosts made the mistake of sitting back, and Israel only rarely threatened Andrew Hogg’s goal.
Benayoun came close in the 18th minute after clearing a couple of tackles and Ben-Dayan and Rafaelov also had their chances. But Fernandez’s men were far too content with their slender one goal-advantage and they paid the price in the 38th minute.
Jamie Pace was given too much space in the box and he headed in the equalizer, Malta’s first goal in an official match since November 2007, to the astonishment of the 17,365 fans on hand.
Less than a minute later, Almog Cohen rattled the Malta crossbar with a long-range effort, but that was all the hosts could muster as an immediate reply to conceding a shock goal and the half ended tied at 1-1.
Gili Vermut, who was surprisingly left on the bench, came on as a substitute six minutes after the interval, but his introduction did little to change the proceedings on the pitch. Israel was still dominating the possession, but struggled to create any clear-cut chances.
However, Fernandez’s team finally got the opportunity it was so desperate for in the 64th minute when Almog Cohen was bundled over in the box, leaving referee Said Ennjimi with no option but to point to the spot.
Benayoun stepped up to convert the penalty and Israel was in the lead once more.
This time, the blue-and-white wouldn’t make the same mistake they did in the first half and would clinch the victory 11 minutes later.
Vermut’s shot was poorly saved by Hogg and Benayoun was first to the rebound to complete the win, heading in his 23rd international goal, taking him to third place all-time for Israel, tied with Ronen Harazi.