Israel's national team yesterday continued its momentum from last Friday, easily beating Luxembourg for the second time in five days.
While only scoring three times, in comparison to Friday's six, Eli Guttman can be very pleased with his striking duo of Tomer Hemed and Eden Ben Basat. Hemed scored twice last night, taking his tally in the two games to five goals and making him the lead scorer of the World Cup qualifiers. Ben Basat scored yesterday's other goal, and combined, both strikers scored seven of Israel's nine goals against Luxembourg.
Luxembourg isn't exactly known as a force to be reckoned with on the soccer field. From the 12th minute on, there was no doubt as to who the eventual winner would be, when Hemed hooked onto a fine Bibras Natkho pass and slotted home. Natkho, continuing his display of confidence, was again the provider in the 35th minute, sending Ben Basat in to lob a beauty past the Luxembourg goalkeeper.
Hemed scored his second three minutes after the second half kicked off, with a powerful header, but by that stage it seemed the national team had had enough. From then on it was all a matter of cruise control. Luxembourg ventured closer to the Israeli goal, but its only real opportunity came after a smooth attack in the 92nd minute, which forced Dekel Keinan to clear from the line after goalkeeper Dudu Aouate was already beaten.
Guttman refused to get carried away after the match. "I'm very pleased with the players. They were ready for the challenge and fortunately our rivals had very few chances to score," he said. "We knew we had to move the ball around patiently and wait for the opening."
Guttman is fully aware that the Portugal match on March 22 next year will be a whole new ball game: "It's too early to say what we'll see against Portugal. I saw their game against Russia, they lost, but were in complete control of the game for most of the stages. We have a few months to prepare, and I hope that some of the players I'm counting on will find their form. Still, I'm very proud of the players who took to the field today."
Hemed was also already thinking of the next game. "Against Portugal it will be a completely different story, and we're all aware of that," he said. "First we have friendlies against Belarus and Finland and we would love to have the fans turn out and support us. We need them."
Hemed didn't forget that Yossi Benayoun wasn't part of the squad for the two Luxembourg games: "We all love Yossi. He has a special role in the national team. We would all love to have him with us, but of course we respect the coach's decisions."
Aouate, who once again was team captain, can now boast 70 international caps - more than any other goalkeeper in the national team's history. "I'm really proud of the record, and pleased that we kept a clean sheet tonight," Aouate said. "It's still hard for me to believe I'm on the same list as Bonni Ginzburg and Itzhak Visoker."
Elsewhere in Group F, Azerbaijan managed to stop Russia for 84 minutes in Moscow, until the Russians were awarded a dubious penalty. Cue a 1-0 victory and four wins out of four games for the group leader. Portugal only managed a draw, aginst Northern Ireland 1-1, Postiga scoring the equalizer 10 minutes before time.
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