Israel, and specifically Omer Golan, came to England's rescue last night by defeating Russia 2-1 in a Euro 2008 Group E qualification match at National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
After Elyaniv Barda gave Israel the early lead in the 10th minute, Russia controlled most of the possession and Diniyar Bilaletdinov leveled the score in the 61st minute.
After the match went into stoppage time and appeared to be headed to a draw, Barda broke out and found Golan, who had replaced Ben Sahar in the 69th minute. Golan drove the ball into the net of goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov and took away Russia's hopes for keeping qualification in its own hands.
Russia now has to count on a Croatian victory over England at Wembley on Wednesday, and a victory over winless Andorra the same night, in order to advance. England can eliminate Russia with a draw or win. Croatia, which suffered its first loss of the campaign last night, 2-0 to Macedonia, clinched a spot at Euro 2008 with Israel's victory.
Coach Dror Kashtan decided to implement his youth revolution when Israel's chances of advancing were in critical condition. He brought on his most offensive-minded lineup only after there was no chance of finishing in the top two spots of Group E, and the only thing left was to spoil others' hopes. If we are already in the final moments, then let's go all the way. Golan scored the winning goal in stoppage time last night, and gave Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon an alibi for granting Kashtan another term as national team coach.
Despite the intoxicating victory, it is better to put off essential questions, which were no different before the opening whistle against Russia or after the final one. How did Kashtan actually really help these young players who appeared on the field yesterday, other than giving them playing time? Where was his courage in matches in which he had something to lose? Why did it appear as if we were paralyzed and could not complete two passes in the second half?
If Kashtan continues for another term as national team coach, don't expect any positive answers. He still does not devote enough hours of training to young players in order to guarantee their success; he will choose a cautious lineup whenever he has a theoretical chance to advance; his squad will lose its way whenever its opponents apply pressure; and if we are lucky, we will also celebrate when we put a stick in the wheels of this squad or that squad during qualification for the 2010 World Cup.
A victory over Russia is a flattering achievement, especially since the opponent needed three points in order to keep its Euro 2008 destiny in its own hands and is guided by a serial winner in the form of Guus Hiddink. The problem is that its value to Israel is exactly the same as that of our victory at Stade de France. Nothing.
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