Israel defeated Andorra 2-0 to end their 2024 Euro qualification campaign on a high note. Anan Khalaili scored his first goal with the senior national team in the first half while Gadi Kinda did the same in the second to hand the blue-and-white the win.
However, this game was pretty much a dress rehearsal for the national team matches coming up in March when they will feature in the European Championship playoffs which they advanced to thanks to their performance in the Nations League.
While Israel has yet another last chance to find a way into their first major tournament since 1970 when they played in the 1970 Mexico World Cup, but the fact of the matter is that Head Coach Alon Hazan’s squad should never even be in this situation, war or not.
Sports Director Yossi Benayoun and the bench boss were handed arguably the easiest group to qualify directly for the Euros which will be held in Germany this coming summer and did everything off of the pitch to ensure that one issue ends up following the next.
Firstly, the controversy surrounding Eran Zahavi, Israel’s star striker and all time leading goal scorer from day one did the duo absolutely no favors. By not giving Zahavi his own room to sleep in prior to a national team game as he had received for the last number of years under the previous administration of Will Ruttensteiner and Andi Herzog was an ego game that they wanted to play with their most important asset.
Zahavi said, thanks but no thanks I’m not going to play this game and by Benayoun and Hazan’s stubbornness they decided in essence to cut off their noses to spite their faces and not have the most dangerous player in their arsenal.
Before every set of national team games, Zahavi was in the headlines and the questions were asked, but the pair were as stubborn as mules and continued to just say that Zahavi was welcome to discuss a return should he agree to share a room. Instead of looking at this attainable goal right in front of their faces they just kept sticking to their guns over and over and over again.
His absence was evident from the get go as Israel had all kinds of problems finding the back of the goal relying on a younger group of players led by Manor Solomon and Oscar Gloukh and scored only 7 goals in the first six games in which Zahavi was not present. Of those half dozen games, Israel just got by Belarus both at home and away thanks to last gasp strikes to earn the points drew with Kosovo at home, tied with Romania on the road while downing Andorra and falling to Switzerland.
As the war began and Israel was without an injured Solomon, Zahavi and the IFA out their differences aside as #7 parachuted in to “save the day” however, that’s not exactly what occurred as Israel fell at Kosovo, barely drew against Switzerland at their temporary home in Hungary and then lost to Romania to mathematically end their chances to qualify. On top of that there are reports that the captain Eli Dasa was told not to hand the captain’s armband to Zahavi should the defender be subbed off which is something that did occur in the Kosovo game.
Zahavi needed to be in the squad from day one, but a battle of egos and petty politics trumped all as Israel could not beat any of the top three teams and if you can’t do that then you don’t even deserve to move on.
The next mini-controversy occurred after Shon Weissman scored a late goal against Switzerland to draw even and keep Israel alive in qualifying. The Granada striker who has not played much this season for a variety of reasons, used colorful language directed towards the professional staff for not having counted on his abilities for the most part of the campaign. Weissman’s reaction was no doubt an error of judgement on his part and out of place which he apologised for in the lockerroom and in front of Hazan, Benayoun and whoever else he needed to say sorry to.
Now that should have been that and the parties would move on to the next game against Romania which was a do or die matchup for the blue-and-white as they needed to win in order to go into the final game in Andorra with a chance to still qualify directly.
However, no lessons were learned by B&H as the ego game came to the forefront once again and they suspended Weissman for that game. With the score at 1-1 in the Israel and Romania game, Hazan looked to some offense on his bench and didn’t see many options without Weissman with the only natural striker available being Tai Baribo who is playing in the MLS but has barely featured at all in North America.
And that was that.
Romania scored in the 63rd minute after a series of poor substitutions by Hazan and Israel barely threatened the rest of the game as they lost and put themselves in the pickle they are in now.
Benayoun and Hazan will have one last chance in March to correct their ways but that will be a very, very tough challenge to get by the likes of either Ukraine or Iceland in the semifinals and should they get by that stage then Bosnia and Herzegovina or Ukraine or Finland will be waiting for them in the finals.
Let’s be honest, the chances that Israel will be able to find a way to navigate the wavy waters ahead is almost nil and the blame for this has to be squarely placed on the shoulders of Benayoun and Hazan.
Had they checked their egos at the door, Israel would have had a much easier path to Germany through the standard qualifying process, but instead they are now living on a prayer.