EURO 2012 Luis Fernandez, the Israel manager, hailed captain Yossi Benayoun after the midfielder fired a decisive hat-trick in the team's 3-1 opening qualifier victory over Malta.
Only 17,365 attended the match at Ramat Gan as Fernandez masterminded victory in his first competitive match. Benayoun opened the scoring after seven minutes before Jamie Pace claimed a shock equaliser. But Benayoun made the game safe with two strikes in the second half.
He became Israel's first player to score two trebles following his efforts in the 8-0 win over San Marino at the same venue in a Euro 2000 qualifier.
Fernandez said: "Yossi proved what a leader he is. I never promised it would be 5-0. I said it would not be an easy game but nobody listened to me. Malta played very defensively and made it difficult for us and they built up confidence and got a goal for themselves. But the main thing is we got the three points."
Benayoun was keen to play down his efforts. "I'm not interested in the goals I scored but rather the team performance," he said. "That's not a cliché. The national team represents my country and that's my love. I want to reach a major tournament final with them and that's all that I care about. Top scorer? For me that's all nonsense."