Israel welcomed back captain Yossi Benayoun from a six-month injury layoff as the national team labored to a 1-0 victory over Georgia in a Euro 2012 Group F qualifier last night. Newcomer Tal Ben Chaim, who came on as a substitute in the 52nd minute, scored the winning goal.
Ben Chaim of Maccabi Petah Tikva - not to be confused with central defender Tal Ben Haim who played the entire match - scored seven minutes after coming on to replace midfielder Bibras Natcho.
Maor Buzaglo charged down the right flank before finding Lior Refaelov, and the midfielder lost two defenders with a clever move on the edge of the area before teeing up Ben Chaim for a cool finish.
Chelsea's Benayoun came on to rapturous applause from the capacity home crowd of 14,000 at Tel Aviv's compact Bloomfield Stadium in the 71st minute. It was his first action for club or country since injuring an Achilles in September.
Israel dominated most of the match, holding most of the possession but, until the goal, did not trouble Georgian goalkeeper Nukri Revishvili while the visitors were similarly ineffective up front.
The result keeps Israel in the hunt in a tight Group F, which Greece lead on 11 points. Croatia and Israel, who also beat Latvia 2-1 on Saturday, both have 10, with Georgia on nine.
After the game, goal scorer Ben Chaim - who was only called into the squad because Eran Zahavi was being punished for attending a family event without permission - described his national team debut as "a dream."
"It wasn't easy to come on for my first ever game under these circumstances," he said, "but after a minute or two it was just another game of soccer for me. When I scored and I saw the fans' reaction - nothing else mattered. But the most important thing was to pick up three points, and that's what we did. I am delighted."
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