Israel’s Euro 2012 hopes are hanging by a thread after they suffered their second defeat in four days, going down 2-1 in Greece.
Going into the Group F qualifier on the back of a 2-1 home defeat against group favourites Croatia, Israel manager Luis Fernandes went into the game with a 4-4-2 formation, making five changes from the starting XI at the weekend. But they were still missing injured captain Yossi Benayoun.
Israel tried to take the game to the visitors with Lior Rafaelov a big influence on proceedings. Together with Etay Shechter, he kept the Greek defence on their toes but their good work was undone by poor finishing.
And it was Greece who forged ahead in somewhat fortunate fashion after 22 minutes when Dimitris Salpingidis’ strike took a big deflection before looping over Dudu Awat and into the net.
Salpingidis posed a big threat to the Israel defence but they stuck to the task manfully.
Israel continued to go forward in search of an equaliser with Rafaelov whistling a free-kick inches over the bar.
Shechter picked up a yellow card for simulation, meaning that he will miss Israel’s next match.
The visitors deservedly drew level just short of the hour mark when Roberto Colautti put in a dangerous low cross that Greek defender Nikos Spyropoulos, under pressure from Shechter, could only help into the net.
Israel’s joy was shortlived, however, as Greek regained the upper hand four minutes later. Salpingidis went down easily in the area with Awat having raced off his line, and although contact was marginal, Swedish referee Martin Hansson awarded a penalty. Greek captain Giorgos Karagounis made no mistake with the resultant penalty, sending Awat the wrong way.
Israel finished the stronger as they looked for another equaliser but Greece stood firm to go top of the group.
Israel’s next match is at home to Latvia on March 26.
Greece: Michalis Sifakis, Nikos Spyropoulos, Giorgios Samaras (sub: Kostas Mitroglou 81), Avraam Papadopoulos, Giorgos Karagounis (capt), Loukas Vyntra, Dimitris Salpingidis (sub: Giannis Maniatis 87), Pantelis Kafes, Sotiris Ninis (sub: Giannis Fetfatzidis 15), Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Kostas Katsouranis. Subs not used:
Alexandros Tzorvas, Giorgos Tzavellas, Panagiotis Kone, Grigoris Makos
Goals: Salpingidis 22, Karagounis 63 (pen)
Booked: Giannis Fetfatzidis 85
Israel: Dudu Awat, Dani Bondarv, Rami Gershon, Bebars Natcho (sub: Gil Vermouth 63), Almog Cohen, Roberto Colautti (sub: Elyaniv Barda 75), Etay Shechter, Dekel Keinan, Lior Rafaelov, Tamir Cohen (sub: Elroy Cohen 69), Eyal Golarsa. Subs not used: Ariel Harosh, Gal Alberman, Orel Dgani, Ben Sahar
Goal: Nikos Spyropoulos 59
Booked:M/b> Etay Shechter 45+1
Group F standings:
Greece Pl. 4, Pts. 8
Croatia Pl. 3, Pts. 7
Georgia Pl. 4, Pts. 6
Israel Pl. 4, Pts. 4
Latvia Pl. 4, Pts. 4
Malta Pl. 3, Pts. 0