Gutman & Co. fall to Ukraine in 2-0 friendly for first international loss for Israel in five games.
Israel suffered its first defeat since last November on Wednesday night, losing 2-0 to Ukraine in Kiev in its last tune-up match ahead of the final stretch to its 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Since falling 2-1 to Belarus in a friendly in Jerusalem last year, Israel had managed to resurrect its qualifying campaign with a 3-3 draw against Portugal and a 2-0 victory at Northern Ireland, while also winning its past two friendly encounters against Finland and Honduras.
However, it was outplayed for most of Wednesday’s game – played under driving rain in Kiev – giving coach Eli Gutman plenty of food for thought before next month’s resumption of the qualifiers.
The blue-and-white currently sits in third place in Group F with 11 points from six matches, trailing second-placed Russia, which had 12 points from five games before Wednesday night’s match at Northern Ireland.
Portugal leads the group with 14 points from seven encounters.
Israel hosts Azerbaijan on September 7 and visits Russia three days later before playing Portugal on the road on October 11 and ending its campaign at home against Northern Ireland four days later.
Besides winning its final two home matches, Israel will also likely have to triumph in at least one of its games at Russia or Portugal to have any chance of finishing in the runners-up position and qualifying for the playoffs.
But before the national team sets its sights on recording a massive upset by beating Russia or Portugal, it will first have to defeat Azerbaijan, which is far from a given should the blue-and-white not improve on Wednesday’s showing.
Israel registered its first shot at goal in the 15th minute, with Eden Ben- Basat firing straight at ’keeper Andriy Pyatov from 20 meters out after a rare break forward by the blue-and-white.
However, the Ukrainians were in complete control throughout the half and finally took a deserved lead in the 29th minute.
Israel comfortably soaked up the pressure until that stage, but a needless Biram Kiyal turnover on the halfway line handed the hosts the opportunity they were waiting for.
Marko Devic stole the ball from Kiyal and Edmar Aparesida’s pass found the incoming Ruslan Rotan, who easily netted the opener with a powerful effort.
The Ukrainians required just five touches of the ball to find the back of the net and another superb team move should have really seen them double their advantage five minutes from halftime.
Oleg Gusev came centimeters away from rolling in Ukraine’s second goal, but he mistimed his slide by fractions of a second and just missed the ball.
Israel reached a golden opportunity out of nowhere in first half stoppage time, but Kiyal couldn’t make up for his earlier mistake, fluffing his shot when he only had the ’keeper to beat after Bibras Natcho’s through ball.
Both coaches made three changes each ahead of the second half and Israel finally got a foothold in the match.
However, the blue-and-white failed to create chances despite its increased possession and the hosts put the match to bed in the 71st minute.
Aparesida was once more in charge of the crucial pass, leaving Yevhen Seleznyoy with the simple task of beating goalkeeper Dudu Aouate.
Israel captain Yossi Benayoun equaled Arik Benado’s national team all-time record of 94 appearances after coming on as a 72nd-minute substitute, but the blue-and-white didn’t even threaten the Ukraine goal in the remainder of the night and will quickly want to turn its focus to next month’s qualifiers.