An inspired display from keeper Dudu Awat together with a second-half strike from Omer Golan maintained Israel’s hopes of reaching the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as they came from behind to draw 1-1 against group leaders Greece in Ramat Gan on Saturday night.
The Group Two qualifier saw the visitors have the better of the game chances wise with Real Mallorca stopper Awat coming to Israel’s rescue on several occasions.
A rush of blood from Israel’s No. 1 gifted the visitors their first opening but Sunderland defender Tal Ben Haim was on hand to clear a goal-bound header from Traianos Dellas.
Ben Sahar had Israel’s best chance of a tight first half. He beat three players before curling a short wide of the post.
Greece forged ahead on the stroke of half time when Fanis Gekas slid home from inside the box.
Awat made a vital block to deny Georgios Karagounis and, roared on by 50,000 passionate supporters, Israel’s spirits were lifted when Sahar and skipper Yossi Benayoun linked up well down the right flank with the latter’s dangerous cross crashed home by Golan.
The visitors continue to threaten and were particularly menacing from dead-ball situations but Sahar fashioned a late chance for the Blues, releasing substitute Barak Itzhaki who fluffed his effort.
The game ended on a sour note when Benayoun limped off after 77 minutes, making him a doubt for Wednesday night’s rematch in Heraklion. He did not train with the team on Sunday.
Israel manager Dror Kashtan said: “The battle for first position is close and we believe we can still do it. In the first half the Greeks dominated the match, but in the second half we were back to our usual selves and could have won the encounter.
“This is a tight group and it is still wide open as both Israel and Greece must still play in Switzerland. Now we go out to Greece and must try achieve our aim and win."
Benayoun commented: “With the way the match developed I was happy to settle for a draw. We didn't look very good in the first half, but we fought back. If we would have started the match the way we ended it we would have won."
Looking ahead to Wednesday night, he added: “I really hope we win in Greece. But in a certain situation a draw will also be a pretty good result."
Sahar said: “We missed a chance to claim a win at home, But we have another chance to take three points on Wednesday and we can do it."
Group Two contenders Switzerland climbed above Israel into second place after claiming a 2-0 in Moldova.