When Israel was drawn in the same group for the World Cup qualifiers as Latvia, Greece, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Moldova, national team coach Dror Kashtan described it as a "golden opportunity" for the national team to reach the finals of the most important soccer tournament in the world, for the first time since 1970.

But Israel's national soccer team - to paraphrase Abba Eban - never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Kashtan, who is one of the most successful coaches in Israeli club soccer, said before last night's game that win, lose or draw, he would not step down. Fighting words, indeed. What a pity that he failed to instill some of that fighting spirit in the collection of players who represented the Jewish state last night. What a pity that Kashtan's almost pathological tenacity (to cling to his job) is not echoed by the players he selects for his team.

With so many Israeli players plying their trade in Europe's top leagues, and with the success of Israeli teams in international competitions, there is no excuse for the pathetic performance that Kashtan and his charges inflicted on us.

And with so many young coaches - Israelis and foreigners - waiting in the wings for their chance to shine, there is no excuse for renewing Kashtan's contract.