Israel did exactly what they needed to do with their first two Euro 2016 qualifying matches which was to win both and take maximum points before their upcoming home clash against Bosnia at the brand new Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa next month.
Being carried on the back of Omer Damari’s hat trick, three goal performance Israel was able to make sure no shocking results were in the offing as the visitors defeated a game Andorra 4-1. Of course the match was not without a scare or two with Andorra equalizing on a penalty kick in the first half after Damari had opened the scoring in the second minute.
Nir Biton the Celtic young stud replaced Sheran Yeini in the starting lineup and was called for a push in the box at the 15 minute mark which was more of a dive by the Andorran player. Biton, the inexperienced former U21 captain put his hands on the back of his opponent in the box who fell down as if he had been pushed off a cliff at full force. Hopefully this will be a lesson learned by the lanky midfielder as he has been tabbed to remain in Eli Gutman’s lineup next month to keep his hands behind his back and be very wary of contact in the box that may cost his team against better competition down the road.
Israel, now under a bit of pressure on the plastic surface in the Lego looking mini stadium seemed a bit rattled, but Damari again pulled his mates out of the fire as speedster Tal Ben Haim gave him a perfect pass to give his side a 2–1 lead before the half at minute 41.
The second half saw Israel continue to apply pressure as the overmatched Andorra side began to falter. Omer Damari was able to complete his hat trick and striker Tomer Hemed scored a penalty as the match expired when the referee blew the final whistle to give Israel a 4-1 victory and six out of six points.
I don’t think Israel and coach Eli Gutman could have asked for much more in these two games. New National team ‘keeper Ofir Marchiano was as solid as could be, captain Tal Ben Haim, the defender led the troops on the pitch and the Maccabi Petach Tikva youth products Omer Damari & Tal Ben Haim excelled.
All in all, Israel did this campaign what they couldn’t do last, which was to win the first two games and walk away with full points in what looks to be a topsy turvy group.
Bosnia has disappointed this far with only 2 points in 3 matches as Wales leads the group with 7 points and Belgium sits with 4 points after two games. So it’s wide open with Israel primed to potentially take 9 points in 3 games should they defeat Bosnia at home.
Eli Gutman could have not dreamed for a better scenario with qualification for a major tournament actually in his sights along with the rest of the country and supporters of Israel.
However, the key will still be if Gutman will be able to manage his squad correctly when he faces the nest few matches Bosnia, Wales & Belgium all at home with the latter two taking place in March 2015. This is still my biggest fear. Not so much the abilities of the players which thankfully Israel seems to have some quality, but the actual preparation and then in game execution when under pressure from one of the three teams mentioned above.
This will make or break the campaign and Eli Gutman surely knows it.