If Andi Herzog didn’t see enough of Israeli football last Thursday night when his side threw away a 1:0 lead against North Macedonia and drew 1:1, he certainly got his fill in Ljubljana. In classic Israeli fashion, the Blue & White choked away a 2:1 second half lead and fell to Slovenia 3:2 in a 90th minute stunner thanks to an errant clearance by Beram Kayal.
All Kayal had to do was boot the ball downfield, but instead he just lazily passed the ball ahead allowing Slovenia to pick it off, send a cross into the box between two central defenders caught napping and the rest as they say is history. Herzog got a true taste of how Israel can just choke up in the finest of ways.
The second Kayal struck the ball, Captain Bibras Natcho leaped into the air in absolute shock and horror; even he knew what was going to happen next, just as all of the fans watching at home. Natcho has seen this movie before and so have the supporters, one campaign after the next and one false hope after the next false hope.
In fact, we all saw the teaser right before the half when Slovenia took the lead. How is it that Israel always have the sixth sense to ensure giving up a goal at the worst moments of a game. And it doesn’t get worse just before the half or near the end of the match. Against Slovenia Israel hit the daily double. Haven’t the Jewish People suffered enough?
Now, I’m not going to lay the blame on just Kayal here. Herzog must take some of that as well. The Charlton midfielder had been injured and we saw after the game in Beer Sheva how he was receiving treatment after he came on as a second half substitute. That’s also why he wasn’t in the starting lineup against Slovenia, so let’s all just calm down on the blame game. Kayal is certainly an easy scapegoat, but he’s not the reason why Israel lost.
It’s all of the small details and that’s what Eran Zahavi stated so accurately after the game. It’s giving up fouls in the wrong places at the wrong times. It’s miscommunication between players. It’s not playing the full 90+ minutes. It’s all of those things all wrapped up into one. I can sit back and dissect the goals that were given up, but we all know that once again each and every one of them was the result of a defensive lapse.
Hatem Abd Elhamed and Loai Taha were spun around on the first goal, the next goal saw Orel Dagani and Elhamed at fault and the third was a threesome of Kayal, Dagani and Taha. Do you see a pattern here? The central defenders were all responsible in some way or another for each of the goals.
Does Israel still have a chance to advance even though they are in 5th place? Sure, there’s always a chance and they are only 3 points behind Slovenia who are in second place, but there are so many other teams in front of them and that’s a huge problem. Next up in October is a match in Austria followed by a home encounter with Latvia while in November Israel faces Poland in Jerusalem and then North Macedonia away. It’s hard to envision Israel taking more than 6 points from those 4 games.
The stark reality says that Israel won’t qualify and yet another campaign has gone down the drain. Herzog is learning that the hard way. After taking 7 points in their first 3 games, Israel has only earned one point in their last three and the coach along with Sports Director Willi Ruttensteiner understand that that just isn’t enough.
The main goal now is to get ready for the upcoming games in October, but a bigger question looms after collapsing in Slovenia, what will the mental shape of the players be in? That’s another job which Herzog will now have to take on, that of psychologist.
Israel hasn’t made it to a “big” tournament since 1970 and that doesn’t seem like something that will happen anytime soon. You can’t build Rome in a day as the saying goes and that is something Herzog and Ruttensteiner are beginning to understand. Israel is light years away from being an international force on the pitch.