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England’s icons upstage Israel

by: Robert Halter - Last updated: 2007-09-09

Israel players

Israel players

A small crowd of Palestinian protesters on the side of the walkway on Empire Way leading up to Wembley Stadium tried to mar the showpiece occasion between England and Israel in the crunch Euro 2008 qualifier but Israel’s army of supporters invaded the ground with a sea of blue and white, holding high the star of david with pride, as they savoured every moment of a historical match in the sporting history of the holy land.

With Israel joint top of Group E, next to Croatia on seventeen points, England had it all to do, as they trailed the Israelis by three points prior to this match, although having played a game less.

A beautifully versed live performance of the Israeli national anthem, was greeted by a section of the Israel fans holding up a plastic inscription of the torah, and at the bottom corner of the press box, a man wearing a couple stood with pride, as he could be forgiven for breaking shabbat early, on this special evening. Club captain, Yossi Benayoun, started proceedings from the centre circle – the wait was over.

However, it was backs to the wall early on, as England started the aggressors, trying to make amends for the goal less draw in Tel Aviv back in March. On nine minutes, Michael Owen teed up the ball for Emile Heskey, who back from the wilderness, after three years away from the England side, blasted his shot over the crossbar from inside the penalty box, as he failed to justify the vote of confidence given to him by England coach, Steve McClaren.

Another blunder by Heskey on sixteen minutes, let Israel off the hook, as he headed wide, Steven Gerrard’s perfectly measured corner. But England did not have to wait long for the opener, as Joe Cole’s pass, left the Israel defence at sixes and sevens, as Shaun Wright-Phillips met the ball on the volley, and lifted his shot over Israel’s goalkeeper, Dudu Aouate, into the back of the net, despite a suspicion of offside, England went in front on twenty minutes. Israel’s head coach, Dror Kashtan, had sensed his team were in danger, as he had frantically jumped off his bench to issue instructions, but to no avail. Israel were unbeaten away from home in the group, going into this game, but were unable to threaten the England rear guard. Israel’s goalie, Aouate did everything for the cause, as he blocked with his face, Owen’s fierce shot from inside the penalty box in the thirty seventh minute, and required treatment to get back on his feet.

Again Aouate came to the rescue, three minutes later, as he kept out Ashley Cole’s low drive at full stretch. The England dominance continued four minutes in the second half, as a swivelling turn and shot on the half volley by Owen, rocketed into the top hand corner to increase the three lions lead and leave Israel with a mountain to climb.

Aouate’s busy night’s work continued in the sixty third minue, as he stopped Joe Cole in his tracks. But the third goal was imminent, as the Israel defence caved in from Gareth Barry’s corner, and Micah Richards rose high to head the ball into the roof of the net, the first for his country in the sixty sixth minute.

Yoav Ziv prevented an England fourth, as he blocked Owen’s shot on the line, in the eighty sixth minute, although the score line told the story of a disappointing Israel performance, leaving manager Kashtan to pick up the pieces afterwards, as he received a grilling from Israel’s media, and with the assistance of an English translator, he commented:

"True, there is always gaps between us and the England side. It was a well known fact, and I said on a given day, one can surprise but there is a massive gap between the Israel football and English football, and these are not excuses, but plain simple facts. That was evident here today, and if you concede a goal that is a clear offside and a third goal with a foul on our keeper, Owen’s goal was an absolute beauty, these are things that manage to affect a game, and when the referee awards set pieces constantly to our opponents on the edge of area, that does have an affect on the game."

He added: "Some of their players have superb aerial ability like John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, plus Heskey and Richards, so it was tough to contend with them. We had special difficulties containing Emile Heskey, as the game was directed towards him, and he was knocking balls down to Gerrard and Michael Owen, with the ball directed to Richards. Its true in the third part of the game, we began to start to have the initiative, especially some of the changes we made, but that wasn’t enough today."

Kashtan further said: "A question might be asked, whether we still stand a chance, I still insist that we still have a chance, there is still three games to play, one in Croatia, two at home against Russia and Macedonia, and even the English have a game in hand with the same number of points, but they have to beat Russia twice, and face Croatia with a game against Estonia. In football you can never predict the future but we have to improve as the ability today wasn’t enough, especially against a side that has so many great players in it."

Under pressure England coach, Steve McClaren was left to revel in his own side’s performance, as he summed up:

"I think the way the players went about the job, I think the way the players played, it made Israel look ordinary today, I think that’s the key. You can only play as well as the opposition let you. Israel have proved to be a very good side, a difficult side to break down, a difficult side to score against, a difficult side to beat and today we’ve beat them quite easy with a good performance and three goals."