Israel’s 2018 World Cup qualifying hit a new low on Saturday night after they not only lost at home to Macedonia, but then suspended Eran Zahavi from their next game after he threw off the captain’s armband.
World Cup Qualifier Group G:
Israel 0 FYR Macedonia 1
Saturday, 2 September, 2007
Going into the game, which was played in front of a sparse crowd at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, Elisha Levy’s side knew they had to win the game to stand any remote chance of keeping up their hopes of qualifying for next summer’s tournament in Russia.
Goran Pandev’s 73rd minute strike proved to be the difference, but most of the talk after the match was regarding Eran Zahavi who threw off his armband early in the second half, as a result of the boos and cat calls from the home supporters, with the Israeli FA confirming after the match they were suspending him for their next match against Italy on Tuesday.
Speaking about his actions after the match, Zahavi, who also apologised for his actions, said: “For 40 years we haven’t made it to the World Cup, 40 years without advancing, when I heard the booing, my heart exploded.”
Explaining the decision to suspend Zehavi, Israel FA head Ofer Eini said despite his apology, “The Israeli team and values of honour and sportsmanship are always above any result on the grass.”
Israel’s Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev criticised Zahavi, though also praised him for apologising. “I am happy that Zahavi understood his mistake and quickly apologised,” she said. “Such incidents should not be repeated on sports fields.”
Having lost 3-0 to Albania in their last game, at the same venue in June, hopes of a backlash – on the pitch from the players – were high, given that they were up against a side who were without a win in five games.
However, it was the visitors who looked more threatening in the first half, putting the ball into the back of the net only to see it unfortunately ruled out for offside, while also hitting the post. By the time Pandev scored the winner, the stadium was three-quarters empty, with the only ‘entertainment’ being the supporters booing Zahavi every time he touched the ball.
Mathematically still in with a chance of finishing second in the group, which would earn them a play-off tie, they need to win in Italy on Tuesday, win their remaining two games after that and hope other results go their way.
Latest Group Standings: