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The Lowdown: Israel 3-3 Portugal March 22, 2013 World Cup Qualifier

The game started as most realists would have thought with a quick opening goal in the second minute by Portugal on a corner kick set piece by Bruno Alves heading home the ball to make it 1-0 Portugal. However, Israel did not give up and began to take control of the first half going level at 1-1 on a beautiful turn around mark by Mallorca striker Tomer Hemed in the 24th minute.

Toulouse striker Eden Ben Basat then drove home a brilliant strike in the 40th minute to give Israel a 2-1 advantage going into halftime. As the teams were heading for the lockerrooms, Cristiano Ronaldo quiet up to that point gave the referee a hard time for not calling fouls and penalties for Portugal.

The second half began with Portugal dominating the course of play and possession as Israel then brought on striker Eliran Atar for Tomer Hemed to a standing ovation. In the 70th minute Rami Gershon’s header on a second corner kick gave Israel a shock 3-1 lead over 7th ranked Portugal and sent the Israeli fans into pandemonium. Israel now in the driver’s seat looked a bit in disarray as Ronaldo went flying down the right side and passed the ball off to Helder Postiga who smashed it home to cut Israel’s 2 goal lead to only one in the 72nd minute.

Israel coach Eli Gutman then made his second substitution of the match by bringing in Club Brugge’s Lior Rafealov for Maor Melikson in minute 73 and Chelsea’s Yossi Benayoun came onto the pitch for Eden Ben Basat in the 81st minute, however the two offensive substitutions suggesting that Gutman was going to go for the jugular was just a rouse as Israel kept defending, hoping to keep Portugal at bay and snatch the 3 valuable points. Sitting in the stands for these minutes was especially frustrating as Atar would not go after the Portugal defenders such as Pepe and would just let them clear out the ball. Israeli runs down the field time and time again were broken up as Israel seemed to be content to just defend their way to the end of the match.

Then as the game entered into 4 minutes of injury time Dudu Aoute could not get to a headed ball by Portugal and the clearing attempt rebound by Yuval Spungin went right off of Fábio Coentrão foot and into the goal to tie up the game at 3-3 in the 93rd minute to send home the crowd to a disappointing draw and only 1 point. Though Israel remains second in the group tied with Portugal with 8 points, they still have an away game at Portugal and one in Russia, both of which will not be easy matches.

What was most frustrating was that the substitutions all offensive in nature were not used in that fashion. They did not chase balls that should have been pressured and did not go after a fourth goal to seal the deal. Instead they laid back trying to defend the lead and when you do that, disaster almost always strikes. And it did.

The blame for this falls squarely on the coach, Eli Gutman. If you are going to defend then bring in players to help out the defensive corps. Don’t bring in players that will try and trick the opposition into thinking that Israel was still on the offensive, but was obviously not. Bring in some work horses, Gal Alberman, Mahran Radi or Eran Zahavi and have them play some D.

The next issue I have to make is with the National Team goalkeeper, Dudu Aoute. How many times have we seen him NOT come up big in important games. Here was his chance, a floater of a ball coming into the box, one easily to be caught or punched away. But no, as usual Aoute can’t judge the ball correctly and doesn’t handle the situation the way an international ‘keeper should and gives up the tying goal seconds away from a victory. He looked lost on the first goal and second goals as well and the term dear in the headlights would be most appropriate for him.

Lastly, fans walked out upset but still with the attitude of, “we were able to draw against the mighty Portugal”. I would like to remind all of you out there that back on March 30th 2005 when Israel drew with France 1-1 at Ramat Gan Stadium when David Trezeguet of France was sent off in the 55th minute. Trezeguet had scored in the 50th minute to put the French up 1-0 and it took until the 83rd minute when Walid Badir finally ties up the game. Everyone walked out of the stadium thrilled to have secured one point and I moaned, this game will cost us dearly at the end of the campaign. And it did.

France finished with 20 points, and Israel finished level with Switzerland with 18 points, but a better goal differential allowed the Swiss to go to the playoffs and France eventually were finalists losing to Italy for the 2006 World Cup. If Israel would have won the match versus France, they would have finished with 20 points and earned an automatic bid into the World Cup. So folks, as we see, Football is a game of minutes and inches. And most probably both of these will cost Israel with getting any chance to got to Brazil 2014 because of this draw.

Player Ratings
4 Dudu Aoute-A painful, brutal game. No big saves. Never comes up big when needed. Let his team down when his team needed him most.
5-Yuval Spungin-Played a nice match, however looked tired near the end and his clearing attempt on Portugal’s 3rd goal went off of Coentrão foot and rebounded into Israel’s goal.
6 Tal Ben Haim-Ben Haim was solid in the back having played sparingly for QPR.
5 Eitan Tibi-Played decently, but gave up the ball in key situations that led to two goals.
8 Rami Gershon-Played a spectacular match, rock solid in the back and knew how to put home Israel’s third goal and an absolute laser of a header.
7 Sheran Yeni-Why did Ronaldo play so poorly? Ask Sheran Yeni what his magic formula was. Though if you has watched Yeni all year you would know how good a marksman he is.
7 Baram Kayal-His time in Europe has served him well, making the right decisions consistently and was the right choice to start ahead of Eran Zahavi.
7 Bibras Natkco-How did Israel produce such an international wonder? Played hard, aggressively and laid down the law in the midfield for Israel.
6 Maor Melikson-Didn’t back down from any challenge and has developed into a dependable player since heading to Poland and France.
7 Eden Ben Basset-Scored a bomb of a goal. Teams will be lining up for him very, very soon.
8 Tomer Hemed-His goal was that of a classic striker and his assist was that of a classic European footballer. Teams are already lined up for him.

Substitutes:
4 Eliran Atar-Looked lost on the big stage. Looked like he was under orders to not chase balls and play offense.
N/A Lior Refaelov-Did nothing of interest.
N/A Yossi Benayoun-Cameo appearance.