Fit to be tied: Elmkies scores late as Israel draws 1-1 with Slovakia

Israel and Slovakia played to an entertaining 1-1 draw in UEFA Nations League action at the Netanya Stadium. Michal Ďuriš scored early for Slovakia but Ilay Elmkies who came on as the blue-and-white’s final substitute scored during injury time to split the points.

Coach Willi Ruttensteiner’s squad controlled the majority of minutes throughout the game but had trouble getting the ball past the Slovakia keeper until the 20 year old midfielder worked his magic in the area to give the hosts two points in as many games.

“We wanted to win the game, the players gave everything and fought until the end,” explained Ruttensteiner. “You can see the difference of the physical level and we have to improve but we could have won on that last shot by Zahavi. The heat and humidity was difficult for all of the players on the field and if you make mistakes at this level you will get punished.”

“I think we played and attacked well today,” said Israeli starlet Manor Solomon. “We are working hard on the defensive side of the game and we paid a price today. Last game we didn’t but I think we can be happy with our performance. We showed that we have a lot of character by coming back. We have to make sure we can finish off in front of the goal and we will hopefully do that when we play again next month.”

Goal scorer Ilay Elmkies couldn’t stop smiling after the game, “I feel great especially coming in and helping out the National Team. It’s an amazing feeling to score especially for my family and all those who worked with me throughout the years. This is no doubt the best moment of my career to date.”

Israel came into their UEFA Nations League game after drawing 1-1 in Scotland as the sides split the points while Slovakia entered the contest having fallen to the Czech Republic 3-1. Willi Ruttensteiner went with the same starting lineup as Ofir Marciano tended the goal, Eli Dasa and Taleb Tawhatha were the wingbacks while a trio of center backs in Eitan Tibi, Hatem El Hamed and Nir Bitton shored up the defense. Captain Bibras Natcho, Dor Peretz and Manor Solomon manned the midfield while Monas Dabbur and Eran Zahavi were on the attack.

Pavel Hapal’s team featured Napoli’s Stanislav Lobotka and Parma’s Juraj Kucka in the midfield while Inter Milan’s central defender Milan Škriniar played in front of Fullham’s keeper Marek Rodak.

Israel took control early on and created a chance when Bibras Natcho and Eran Zahavi teamed but the latter’s attempt went over the goal in the 7th minute while three minutes later Eli Dasa’s left footed strike in the box was parried away by the Slovakia keeper.

However, against the run of play, Michal Ďuriš broke free from the blue-and-white central defenders as the ball went off of Eitan Tibi giving the veteran striker all kinds of space to beat Ofir Marciano handing Slovakia an easy 1-0 lead in the 14th minute.

With the visitors dictating the pace of play following the goal, Israel’s rising star Manor Solomon sent Dor Peretz a smart ball outside of the box but the Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder’s low shot went wide left of the goal in the 33rd minute. Solomon had a opportunity six minutes later but after making his way around a couple of defenders he skied his shot as the half ended with Slovakia ahead 1-0.

Ruttensteiner made his first substitute to begin the second half as Captain Bibras Natcho came out due to being in pain and Yonatan Cohen came on in his place. Cohen was quick to get to work for Israel as he tried to jump start the host’s offense but his 52nd minute free kick into the box didn’t find its intended target. Ďuriš came downfield soon thereafter as he looked to double the Slovakia advantage but his shot was stopped by Marciano.

Shon Weissman entered the fray in favor of a static Monas Dabbur in the 58th minute and within seconds sent a scorcher just over the bar as Israel looked to equalize. Zahavi’s shot was taken care of by Rodak in the 69th minute and was then shown yellow for a foul on Milan Škriniar. Israel then made their third substitute as Ilay Elmkies who plays his club football for Hoffenheim came on for Taleb Tawhatha.

Zahavi’s 74th minute free kick just missed the target while his chance off a Weissman tap minutes later went wide right as Israel continued to press for a goal. An active Zahavi was yanked down just outside of the box good for a free kick but Cohen’s shot couldn’t find the goal as it went out.

Weissman’s weak attempt was easily caught by Rodak in the 84th minute while Peretz followed that up with a long distance liner that the shot stopper took care of once again. Róbert Boženík tried his luck for Slovakia at the other end but Marciano was up to the task as time would down for Israel.

But the blue-and-white had no quit in them as the game moved into injury time as Elmkies took a terrific Cohen pass in the box and beat Rodak to draw even at 1-1. Zahavi had one last gasp chance to snatch the 3-points but his shot went off the left post as Ruttenstiener’s squad split the spoils.

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