The Israel National Team fell at Kosovo 1-0 to put a damper on their chances to qualify for the 2024 Euros. The blue-and-white came into the game with plenty of emotions due to the Hamas attack on Israel that saw over 1200 people murdered and 240 hostages being held in Gaza. But on a difficult Pristina pitch in driving rain, head coach Alon Hazan’s squad had difficulty creating opportunities and couldn’t find the back of the goal as the hosts controlled the pace of play throughout, finding the lone marker via Milot Rashica just ahead of halftime to wrap up the 3-points.
The matchup with Kosovo was Israel’s first of four games in nine days as they look to secure a place in this coming summer’s European Championships that are slated to be held in Germany. Following the trip to Kosovo, Hazan and his charges will head to Hungary where they will host both Switzerland and Romania at the Puskás Akadémia Pancho Aréna in Felcsút just outside of Budapest on Wednesday and Saturday nights respectively while the final qualification clash will be the next Tuesday at Andorra. All three games will now be most probably must wins should Israel have any designs of heading to the Euros.
“I think the first half we weren’t in the game and Kosovo didn’t do much as well,” Alon Hazan said. “But in the second half we controlled the game and we were able to get off a number of attacks. We were focussed and we wanted to being some comfort for the people of Israel. It’s too bad we couldn’t do that but it’s the first of four games and we will see what we can do.”
“We were very focussed on the goal at hand that but it was tough to play and we couldn’t do what we needed to in the conditions that we were dealt. Our country needed something to lift up their heads and we didn’t win here, but now we have to look ahead. The campaign isn’t over and we have a chance to advance and we will try to get the result we need in every game that we have left.”
Eran Zahavi looked back at the game from his vantage point, “The field was more of a pigsty than a pitch and we didn’t take the points. We will have to give it our all in the games against Switzerland and Romania and truth be told not much changed due to the fact that we lost. We have a good team and a young team and I am here to help with this squad. We will do whatever we can to advance, we made one mistake and we paid for it but we will turn it around.”
Hazan made sure to start players who have been in playing shape in order to get the best result against a Kosovo team that drew with Israel 1-1 back in the Holy Land. Red Star Belgrade’s Omri Glazer started in goal while the back four included Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Roy Revivo, Hapoel Beer Sheva captain Miguel Vitor, Maccabi Haifa central defender Sean Goldberg and captain Eli Dasa who plies his trade for Dynamo Moscow.
Manning the midfielder were Neta Lavi who is playoff in Japan for Osaka, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Dor Peretz who scored a pair of goals in his club’s Conference League win last Thursday and Gadi Kinda who features for Kansas City in the MLS. Up front was a trio of starlet Oscar Gloukh who plays for Red Bull Salzburg, Antalyaspor’s Sagiv Yehezkel and Maccabi’s Eran Zahavi who returned to the national team for the first time in this campaign.
Zahavi, who had a falling out with sports director Yossi Benayoun over sleeping arrangements retired from the blue-and-white, but at the outset of the war and with Manor Solomon being out due to a knee injury, Israel’s all-time goal scoring leader buried the hatchet with arguably one of Israel’s greatest talents to come together in a sign of unity for the nation.
The Kosovo fans jeered the Israeli National Anthem Hatikva and every time a blue-and-white player touched the ball as the match got underway on a waterlogged pitch due to teeming rain. in Pristina. Scoring chances were at a premium over the first quarter hour as each side had trouble moving the ball on the field of play because of the poor conditions with Dor Peretz’s shot being early saved by keeper Arijanet Muric and Vedat Muriqi’s attempt collected by Omri Glazer.
Sagiv Yehezkel needed to be substituted off in the 23rd minute due to an injury and was replaced with Gaby Kanichowsky who scored the winning goal last qualifier against Belarus back in September. Muriqi had the game’s first real chance as he turned in the muddy box but his shot was pawed away by an alert Glazer while a the other end Eran Zahavi’s header just went wide.
However, as the contest headed towards the break, Muriqi sent a fantastic ball to Milot Rashica who broke through both Miguel Vitor and Eli Dasa and then beat a helpless Glazer to send Kosovo into halftime with a 1-0 advantage.
Hazan made one change to begin the second half as striker Dor Turgeman entered the fray for an ineffective Kinda. Zymer Bytiqi had a brilliant chance early on but Glazer was up to the task once again, whole Kanichowsky’s chance at the other end went over the bar. Rashica and Muriqi each had the opportunity to double the Kosovo advantage but Glazer was once again the man of the hour making saves like an octopus in the 60th minute.
More wholesale changes for Israel as Ramzi Safouri and Idan Gorno came on in the 72nd minute to refresh the attack as Israel looked to find the tying goal. Oscar Gloukh and Zahavi each had half chances in the box but both came up empty while the blue-and-white searched for an equalizer that never came.