Maccabiah Games – Day 8
Open football Semi-final : Israel 0 GB 1
A first-half header from captain Sam Sloma put Team Great Britain into the final of the Open Football competition after they claimed a deserved victory over holders Israel in Nawe Sha’anan on Monday afternoon.
Playing in temperatures touching 35 degrees, Sloma met Paul Hakim’s pinpoint cross with a stooping diving header that nestled into the bottom corner.
Sloma said: “I haven’t scored a header since 2000 so it was nice to show people I can use my head as some have doubted my heading ability.
“It feels so good to win and we just keep getting better. Credit to the backroom staff as we watched Israel so that they couldn’t break us down.
“We were under pressure towards the end but we were ready for it. Everyone is working for each other and working hard.
“We have now kept three consecutive clean sheets and the defence has been outstanding. Everyone and everything has been amazing.”
Opponents Israel lined up their Under 19 national team, along with some Under 20 players, all of whom are full time professionals. But GB defended heroically and nullified the hosts with some determined play.
It was the visitors who had the first chance. Sloma’s free-kick was half cleared. Standing on the edge of the box, Michael Warwick lashed a volley over the bar.
The dry and bouncy pitch and windy conditions made it difficult for both teams, but GB kept the ball well and played in the right areas.
After Sloma put them ahead midway through the half, the match was locked in midfield until half time.
Israel made two substitutions early in the second half. The hosts hit the bar from outside of the area while a miscued header from Craig Ellis almost went into his own net.
The hosts started to up the tempo but the closest they came was when a shot from outside the box clipped the bar.
Mitch Hahn then burst down the right. He showed great feet to get to the byline but his excellent cross evaded his teammates.
At times, GB were under the cosh as Israel forced them into their own half but chances were few and far between with keeper Andy Goldman commanding his area.
They kept Israel at bay with relative ease to set up a gold medal match against the winner of the other semi-final, an all-South American affair between Mexico and Argentina, the team they drew 1-1 in their first match.
Manager Jonathan Kestenbaum commented: “We played a side full of internationals, who in September will be playing in European Championship qualifiers, and we were worthy of the win.
“This was also our third clean sheet in a row and that tells you something. This was by far the most difficult game we’ve played. They made it very difficult for us in the second half.
“The players have the opportunity to represent their country against international footballers. How often does that happen? They are representing Anglo-Jewry football and we can all be proud of them.
Looking at the squad, he said: “I want to acknowledge Danny Berliner. He has done most of the preparation for Andy Goldman and his attitude has been second to none.
Any preference as to who GB plays in the final? Kestenbaum said: “I have none. Argentina are an exceptional side. We have played five games in eight days and are glad to have Tuesday off.”
Assistant-manager Ben Winston said: “I’m extremely proud that we have beaten Israel, the holders, and become the first GB team to reach the final for more than 40 years.
“We have shown that the quality of Jewish football in Great Britain is of a high standard. Les Reed, Jonathan Kestenbaum and I are proud of everything we have achieved so far. But we’ve come here not to win a medal, but to win.”
Winston admitted to “learning some lessons” from the group game defeat against France. “It was an education and taught us how to play better.”
The final word goes to head coach Les Reed. “We did the job and are in the final. 1-0 up, the second half performance was never going to be a classic because of the wind.
“Israel are all professionals but we showed that we can get tough if we need to get tough and challenge when we need to challenge. The boys can also play and a lot of teams are not able to do that. We’ve done both in this tournament. The willingness to keep going was phenomenal.
“It’s a game for people with strong hearts and mental toughness. We’re solid, organised and work hard. Our discipline has been fantastic but now we find ourselves with a hell of a job in terms of recovery for the final. Our boys have bought into the recovery system well with ice baths and more.”
Reed made mention of the efforts of the medical team, saying: “They have been outstanding. I can’t praise them enough. They are up there with the best.”
So, what does the ex-England No. 2 think of the standard of Jewish footballers? “Our boys are top class,” he said. “We’ve beaten a team aiming for the European Championships and the standard has been high. We’ve beaten all the seeds to get through, all the toughest teams including the holders.
“It’s been good for us, stepping up a level each time. I’m pleased with the standard overall. It has been a challenge for me but the boys have responded to the coaching. I’m happy to say that coaches from the other teams have complimented us on our standard.”
Looking to the final, he said: “The surface at Kiryat Eliezer will suit us. If it’s Argentina then it will be a physical challenge while Mexico will be technically good.”
GB: Andy Goldman 8, David Soutar 8, Guy Helman 8, Guy Morris 9 (sub: Michael Sacks 67, 8), Craig Ellis 9, Ben Lauffer 8, Sam Sloma (capt) 9 (sub: Alex Levack 82, 7), (sub: Alex Levack 8), Paul Hakim 8, Scott Shulton 8 (sub: Jonathan Kurrant 73, 7), Mitch Hahn 8 (sub: James Gershfield 60, 8), Michael Warwick 8 (sub: Daniel Stanton 65, 7). Danny Berg also came on. Subs not used: Danny Berliner, Matt Stock
JC Match Stats
On target: 1
Off target: 2
On target: 4
Off target: 6
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