Israel got their 2016 European campaign off to a winning start on Friday night as two goals in seven first half minutes saw them claim a 2-1 win in Cyprus.
UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifier Group B
Cyprus 1 Israel 2
Friday, 10 October, 2014
Cyprus went into the game in a confident frame of mind, having produced a brilliant performance in their opening qualifier to defeat Bosnia.
And they started this game the brighter of the two sides, with Ofir Martziano, who was making his debut in goal for Israel, forced to punch a deflected effort over the bar in the first few minutes. But having weathered the opening pressure, Eran Zahavi spurned a golden chance to put the Israelis ahead in the tenth minute when having done the hard work in controlling a defence-splitting ball played over the top of the home backline, he horribly blazed the ball over the bar with only goalkeeper Antonis Georgallides to beat.
Israel’s first real scare arrived minutes later after persistent play down the right wing from Demetris Christofi saw his threatening cross superbly cleared away under pressure by Eyal Meshumar.
The right-back then found himself in the opposition box following a swift attack, though finding the ball on his unfavoured left foot could only find the side netting. Gil Vermouth then found himself in space in the Cypriot box, though curled his effort a yard wide of the post.
Omar Damari was the next Israeli to have an effort on goal though having been picked out by Bibras Natkho, produced a tame header which Martziano plucked out of the air.
While Israel never looked in any real danger, they were susceptible to crosses coming in from the flank and they needed a fully stretched intervention from Eitan Tibi to deny Andreas Makris from getting onto one such cross at the far post.
And that intervention proved vital as from the resulting attack, brilliant wing play from Tal Ben Haim II down the left flank saw him cut the ball back to Damari, and the Austria Vienna striker made no mistake as he steered the ball home.
It got even better for Eli Guttman’s side on the stroke of half-time when a swift counter-attack saw Vermouth pick out Ben Haim II, and full of confidence having laid on the opener, the midfielder weaved his way past two defenders, before expertly firing the ball home.
Having made two half-time substitutions, Cyprus came flying out the traps for the second half and one of those coming into the fray, Pieros Sotiriou, was inches away from heading the home side right back into the game barely a minute after the restart.
And it was the other Ben Haim who was keeping the hope side at bay in the early exchanges, the captain standing firm at the heart of the defence as Cyprus looked to gain some momentum.
Vermouth threatened at the other end, again showing good close control to fashion out a chance, though a weak finish was saved with ease by Georgallides. He got a lot more purchase on his shot minutes later, but instead of squaring the ball to Zahavi, went for power, but was wide of the mark.
Zahavi should have made it three on the hour mark when the elder Ben Haim played him in however, just about managing to get the ball under control, he bundled it past Georgallides, though couldn’t hit the target.
However, just as it looked as if Israel were on control, slack defending in the 67th minute allowed Pieros Sotiriou to turn in the box and with players waiting to fire in the loose ball, Constantinos Makrides did just that.
Making their third and final substitution, the home side went for the jugular and Sotiriou should have made it 2-2 straight from the kick-off though he headed over from eight yards out.
Guttman responded by bringing on Lior Refaelov for the tiring Ben Haim IIand he nearly put the game beyond doubt with his first touch of the game, but his 20-yard shot – aided by a deflection – cannoned back off the post.
Zahavi was continuing to endure a frustrating night as he dragged another shot wide from the edge of the box, before firing a rebound over the bar after Georgallides did well to save Natkho’s initial strike. He did even better four minutes from time when a woeful back pass from Giorgos Merkis played in Shiran Yeini, but Georgallides somehow managed to clear the danger.
Cyprus thought they’d equalised on the stroke of full-time though Martziano pulled off a stunning stop to tip over Vincent Laban’s header, a save which then signalled four minutes of injury time.
However, barring a couple of corners, Israel defended stoutly to hold on for what could prove to be a priceless three points in their quest to reach their first major tournament since the 1970 World Cup.
Speaking after the match, Guttman said: “The most important thing is we won three points and that we start on the right foot with an away game. We started well in the first half, created many chances and played good football.”
Commenting on his goalkeeper, he said: “He had an outstanding game. I chose him because he deserves it. He’s playing well now and it’s my job is to pick the best players at a given time, and he was there for us today.”
Damari said: “It’s very important that we won. We made life difficult for ourselves but the important thing is three points and a first victory in the campaign. We had a couple of chances to score a third at the beginning of the second half, but didn’t and had to deal with some pressure, but that is natural. But we got through it and what is important is victory.
“We next face Andorra and saw how they made life difficult for Wales, but we’ll be ready and I believe that we will win.”
They next take on Andorra on Monday night.
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