Israel began their Euro 2016 Qualfying campaign on the right foot squeaking out a 2-1 victory in Nicosia, Cyprus on Friday night. Winger Tal Ben Chaim made all the difference for Israel assisting on Omer Damari’s goal and scoring one of his own using his skills to outclass the Cyprus defenders to help his side open up with 3 points before heading to their next match.
Israel plays in Andorra on Monday night and should chalk up another victory and claim 6 points before finally playing their first home match in Novermber against Bosnia in the new Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa. But of course they still have to play the games and Eli Gutman will need to prepare his team for the much harder encounters that they have down the road.
At times Friday night, Israel looked unbeatable, taking the game to Cyprus and controlling tempo for most of the 2nd half of the first half. However, Israel looked lost for much of the final 45 minutes not playing much offense and looking extremely tentative when they should have been out attacking after taking a 2-0 lead into the half.
And that’s where El Gutman’s role comes in to play. He had to send the right message to his players at halftime to continue applying pressure and put away the game, however it was anything but. Israel plodded along and were bailed out late in the match by an amazing Ofir Marchiano save as the ‘keeper stretched out to his right hand to knock away a sure goal for Cyprus.
Gutman wasn’t sure what substitutions needed to be made and one could see his tentativeness, only pulling the trigger after Cyprus had cut the lead to 2-1 when he put on Itay Schecter a former favorite from their days at Hapoel Tel Aviv for goal scorer Omer Damari.
It then took him a long few minutes to finally insert Lior Refalov for man of the match Tal Ben Chaim which could have cost Israel big time as Cyprus was smelling blood. Where Cyprus couldn’t take advantage, teams like Belgium & Wales will make Gutman pay for his indecisiveness down the road and this is something the Israel boss must improve if this side has any designs of making it to Euro 2016.
Eran Zahavi had a number of good chances to score but came up short a few times on terrific balls from CSKA Moscow star Bibras Natcho who still has not made his mark for Israel as he has done at the club level. Defender Tal Ben Haim had a solid outing along with central defender partner Eytan Tibi in neutralizing the Cyprus attack time and time again. Eyal Meshumar, the right back had a busy night especially being active in the first half but was suspect on the Cyprus goal by not marking his man.
It should be interesting to see who Coach Gutman starts on Monday night where I suspect he may make wholesale changes in the midfield and up front by starting Tomer Hemed and Celtic midfielder Nir Biton. Gutman will need to find a way to get his midfield in sync with his forwards a bit more than we saw against Cyprus and Andorra should be a good test for this.
Marchiano should remain the man between the pipes in order to get him some more International experience and I’m sure we’ll see the same defensive corps who did an excellent job at weathering the first 25 minutes of the match as Israel settled into their game.
But the question mark will remain as Israel’s real tests begin in November at home versus Bosnia and then in March when the host Wales and Belgium. Could Israel have 9 points before the end of 2014? Could be, but Gutman will need to find a way to ensure that his charges don’t fall asleep at the wheel and that he himself knows when to make the correct subsitutions, before the damage is done and not afterwards.
This may be his biggest test during the campaign.