Late goals boost Israel's World Cup hopes
Late strikes from Leor Rafaelov and Eden Ben Basat kept Israel in second place in Group F following a hard fought win over Northern Ireland in Belfast.
There was a pitch inspection at Windsor Park on the morning of the match following the snow that forced Ireland's game against Russia to be postponed on Friday.
Having thrown away a 3-1 lead to draw 3-3 against Portugal in temperatures of 27 degrees in Tel Aviv four days earlier, Israel started well and they were denied by the woodwork inside the opening two minutes as on-loan Swansea City striker Itay Shechter saw his low effort strike Roy Carroll's near post.
Ben Basat came close minutes later, firing on to the roof of the net before the hosts, who are still looking for their first win in the group, started to come into the game.
Israel keeper Dudu Awat, who was criticised for Portugal's late equaliser, was then called into action to deny Martin Paterson before a shot from Chris Brunt was deflected wide.
Awat then produced an excellent reflex save to deny Davis from close range before Carroll was called into action to deny Ben Basat following good play from Maor Melikson.
Super-sub Rafaelov finally broke the deadlock 13 minutes from time with a cool finish into the bottom corner.
And it was left to Ben Basat to seal the win with an excellent finish past Carroll into the roof of the net.
"I'm proud to be the coach of players that are so committed and sincere," Israel manager Eli Guttman commented.
"We have improved so much since the 4-0 loss to Russia. We had a bad start and I take the blame. There is still a lot of work to do but I see players willing to make sacrifices and fight for the task."
Israel striker Etey Shechter said: "We knew it would be a very hard match in a very hard stadium and we came up against a better team than us in the first half.
"We believed we would enjoy a spell in the ascendancy at some point and when that moment arrived we scored twice."
Israel's next match is at home to Azerbaijan on June 9. Eli Guttman's men then travel to group leaders Russia before what could be a make-or-break meeting against playoff rivals Portugal. Israel conclude their campaign at home to Northern Ireland on October 15.
Northern Ireland: Roy Carroll, Daniel Lafferty, Gareth McAuley, Sammy Clingan (sub: Pat McCourt 78), Steve Davis (capt), Martin Paterson (sub: David Healy 84), Jonny Evans, Chris Brunt, Shane Ferguson (sub: Josh Magennis 73), Aron Hughes, Niall McGinn
Subs not used: Ryan McGivern, Craig Cathcart, Alan McMancus, Grant McCann, Oliver Norwood, Alex Bruce, Bill McKay, Corry Evans, Michael McGovern
Bookings: Jonny Evans 37, Chris Brunt 90
Israel: Dudu Awat, Yuval Shpungin, Tal Ben Haim, Maor Melikson (sub: Leor Rafaelov 70), Bebras Natcho, Eden Ben Basat, Itay Shechter (sub: Yossi Benayoun 86), Sheran Yeini, Null Gershon, Mahran Radi (sub: Eran Zahavi 60), Eytan Tibi
Subs not used: Danny Amos, Gal Alberman, Beram Kayal, Elyaniv Barda, Dekel Keinan, Eliran Atar, Ariel Harush, Avraham Rikan, Ariel Harush, Gal Shish
Goals: Leor Rafaelov 72, Eden Ben Basat 84
Referee: Hannes Kaasik
GROUP F TABLE
1. Russia Pl. 4, Pts. 12
2. Israel Pl. 6, Pts. 11
3. Portugal Pl. 6, Pts. 11
4. Northern Ireland Pl. 5, Pts. 3
5. Azerbaijan Pl. 6, Pts. 3
6. Luxembourg Pl. 5, Pts. 2
Israel's remaining fixtures: June 9 - Israel vs Azerbaijan, September 10 - Russia vs Israel, October 11 - Portugal vs Israel, October 15 - Israel vs Northern Ireland