A night to remember and a night to forget. That’s what the Israel National teams and its 31K supporters saw at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa after the home side was whitewashed 3-0 by Gareth Bale & Wales.
Israel players and coach Eli Gutman came into this match confident, and perhaps a bit too overconfident as the side was riding high after beginning the Euro 2016 campaign with three straight victories over Cyprus, Andorra & Bosnia. Leading their group and about to face Wales & Belgium, one could argue that Gutman and friends looked at four points out of a possible six as reality.
However reality bites and it bit Israel hard. Playing against competition that primarily hones their trade in the English Premier League it was clear from the get-go that Wales was the more aggressive side of the two and were fit, fighting for balls until the final whistle was blown. Unfortunately what Gutman had said in his press conference prior to the match didn’t come true; the fact that his players would play every single minute and not let up for one. Giving up a goal in first half injury time is the absolute last place and no-no where you want to find yourself going behind 1-0.
But what he did say was that Gareth Bale was saving all of his energy for Wales and had let his foot off the gas with Real Madrid. Well that certainly came true and for Gutman it was his worst nightmare.
Where was the plan to contain Gareth Bale? The Israel coach had said that he would have his side making sure to be within a few meters of Bale at all times. The Wales supporters and press were more than shocked to not find Orel Degani or any other Israeli man marking Bale which left him room to roam all over the front third of the pitch. Bale shifted from the left to the right to the center just as the foreign journalists had told me the day before.
Just before halftime, Bale made Israel pay by beating central defender Eitan Tibi and headed the ball to Ramsey who headed it behind ‘keeper Ofir Marchiano for the first goal. Tibi has had a string of terrible games recently as just last week he was beaten by Eliran Atar the Haifa striker whom should have made the squad.
In the second half Bale created havoc again scoring off a beauty of a free kick to put Wales in front 2-0 and he finished Israel off with a third goal and his brace late in the game to send the fans packing.
This ended the night to remember where we all witnessed absolute greatness by arguably one of the world’s best players plying his trade right now. We saw something special. Something that we can hope will be a memory to last a lifetime. One where you’ll be able to tell your children and grandchildren about the time you saw Gareth Bale play in Israel.
It’s back to the drawing board for Israel and coach Gutman who will now have to find a way to rescue a point from these two matches as a Belgium looms large coming up on Tuesday. He’ll need to make some wholesale changes in order to right the ship and said clearly that even if they lose, Israel still has a chance to move along from this group. However, it’s certain that a loss will make it that much harder for Israel to make it into their first serious tournament since the 1970 World Cup.
It’s not everyday that such a talent arrives in the Holy Land to show off his goods and strut his stuff. Well Bale certainly didn’t disappoint and delivered on cue. Up next for Israel is Belgium and they have at least one or two stars. Have you ever heard of Vincent Kompany & Eden Hazard to name a couple? This match will be the only Euro 2016 qualifier on Tuesday night and the eyes of the world will be on Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.
Hopefully for Israel they will make that night a night to remember for the right reasons and not the wrong ones.