Israel’s supersub Saban helps roll over Moldova
World Cup qualifying bid off to an unbeaten start with a draw and a victory
Israel have made a solid start to their World Cup qualifying campaign with four points out of six from their opening games in Group Two.
A gutsy 2-1 success in Moldova on Wednesday night followed Saturday's 2-2 draw at home to Switzerland. They are second in the group behind Greece, who have a maximum six points.
Featuring four Premier League stars - captain Yossi Benayoun, Tal Ben Haim, Ben Sahar and Tamir Cohen - Israel lost striker Elyaniv Barda to a stomach infection before the Moldova match. Their problems were exacerbated when Igor Picusciac outjumped the defence to glance home a first minute header.
Then Pompey striker Sahar had to be substituted by Maor Buzaglo in the third minute after injuring his knee when bundled into an advertising hoarding.
Israel regrouped and Cohen went close with a speculative shot. But the Bolton midfielder picked up a yellow card for the second consecutive game which bars him from the match in Luxembourg next month.
Ben Haim beat three players before crossing for Omer Golan, whose header was tipped on to the bar by keeper Stanislav Namasco. And they levelled on 40 minutes when Buzaglo slipped an exquisite pass to Golan, who slotted past the advancing Namasco.
Israel took the lead after an inspired substitution by Dror Kashtan, who brought on Klemi Saban in defence for the ineffectual Shmuel Kozokin.
But Saban's immediate impact was in attack as he latched on to Buzaglo's pass to fire home on the stroke of half time.
By contrast, the second half was devoid of goalmouth incident as Israel sat back. When the Moldovans were reduced to 10 men in the 63rd minute after Victor Govolatenco received a red card for a clumsy tackle on Golan, Israel pushed forward, but without great penetration.
Manager Dror Kashtan praised his team for "showing their spirit and character today after a very difficult start. I take my hat off to them for the way they came back after losing an early goal and the injury to Ben Sahar. We should have finished the game off in the second half but we also played some smart football to prevent any chance of the Moldovans snatching an equaliser."
Ben Haim added: "A lot of good teams have dropped points here in Moldova so this was an excellent result. But we must improve if we want to reach South Africa."
Sahar swept home an injury time equaliser as Israel clawed back a two-goal deficit against the Swiss.
The strike capped a fine comeback instigated by a captain's performance by Benayoun at Ramat Gan Stadium, where it was a case of a point gained rather than two dropped as home fans turned on Israel at the interval.
The Swiss seemed to be cruising to a comfortable victory. Hakan Yakin put the visitors ahead on the stroke of half time with a sublime free kick that went in off the underside of the bar past stranded keeper Dudu Awat. And it was Yakin again in the 56th minute who floated over a free kick for Blaise Nkufo to head home.
Israel looked disjointed and dull and many in the 31,000 crowd began calling for Dror Kashtan to resign. But the Israeli manager's three second half substitutions breathed life into the boys in blue.
Elyaniv Barda, who had come on for Omer Golan, slipped the ball to Benayoun in the 73rd minute and the Liverpool midfielder poked home to reduce the arrears.
Then in the 92nd minute, the two other substitutes combined for the equaliser as Moshe Ohayon on the left flank whipped over a low cross for Sahar to volley home from close range.
Switzerland's manager Ottmar Hitzfeld blamed the Tel Aviv heat on his team's collapse in the last 20 minutes, while Kashtan said: "The great thing about this team is their new spirit. They never give up."
l Israel go into today's playoff draw for the Uefa 2009 Under 21 championships after a 0-0 stalemate against Germany in Duisburg on Tuesday.
The result saw both teams finish Group Nine with 17 points but the Germans were top on goal difference and qualified for the playoffs automatically. The Israelis progressed as one of the four best runners-up.
Fourteen teams go into the hat with the seven playoff winners joining hosts Sweden in the finals next June.
Israel's Under 21 team will be looking to qualify for its second successive finals having reached the Euro 2007 competition in Holland. They could be drawn against England or Wales.