Israel looked a bit sluggish hitting the Northern Island pitch after 4 cups of wine and a Passover Seder with tons of food Tuesday night in Belfast, but a couple of savvy substitutions in the last quarter of the match gave Israel a 2-0 win and three poins in the bank to retain 2nd place in their World Cup Qualfying group.
Coming off an exhilarating but disappointing home draw against Portual Friday afternoon Israel looked a bit off versus Northern Ireland in sub zero temperatures with an offense that did not click until Club Brugge’s Lior Rafaelov and Eran Zehavi came off the bench to take over from Mahran Radi and Maor Melikson.
Goalkeeper Dudu Aoute of Mallorca came up with a number of big saves to keep the score deadlocked at zero when Israel’s hangover was still intact throughout a lackluster first half. Itay Schecter playing for Swansea on the pitch for a yellow card accumulated Tomer Hemed was not in sync with the offense and Toulouse’s Eden ben Basat was not receiving service from the midfielders as Israel looked to try and break out of an offensive funk as the match wore on.
With the second half substitutions of Zehavi & Rafaelov, Israel began to take charge of the match knowing a draw or a loss would put them behind Portugal in their WCQ group. Eli Gutman’s changes helped open up the offense and Itay Schecter made a number of nice runs especially on the second goal in the 85th minute with a magnificent solo effort and a superb assist to Ben Basat.
The first goal which was scored in the 77th minute by Refaleov confirmed the brilliance of the substitution by Gutman especially after Rafealov’s lackluster performance against Portugal.
But Israel woke up when they had too, grabbed the two points and head into the spring & summer break in good shape to remain in the qualifying picture throughout the end of the campaign.
7 Dudu Aoute-Showed with a great save and kept his team in the game when they were half asleep.
5 Yuval Spungin-OK on D, made a couple of sloppy passes.
6 Tal Ben Haim-Led the defense to a clean sheet.
4 Eitan Tibi-Not a good game from Tibi, took a step back from Friday’s match, made bad decisions.
5 Rami Gershon-Not the same player from the Portugal match but did his share.
6 Sheran Yeni-Quiet game in the midfield, no mistakes.
4 Mahran Radi-Should have provided more offense instead played more like a defensive midfielder, never got into the flow of the game.
5 Bibras Natkco-Looked a bit tired, can’t blame the four cups…
5 Maor Melikson-Too aggressive which got him a yellow otherwise had a nice chance on goal.
7 Eden Ben Basset-Finished his only chance of the game and sealed the victory.
7 Itay Schecter-Two assists not more, looked much more alive when Zehavi & Refaelov entered the game.
8 Lior Refaelov-Scored the winner and was 10 steps above his game on Friday.
7 Eran Zehavi-Sparked the offense to the win.
N/A Yossi Benayoun-Cameo appearance for the captain.