The national under-21 soccer team's 2-1 victory over Northern Ireland in their Euro 2009 qualification match yesterday means that Israel's chances of reaching next year's European championship in Sweden are very good.
Assuming that Israel does not slip up at home against Moldova and at a weak Luxembourg, it will arrive at the final match against Germany (which will face Moldova at home, Luxembourg away and Northern Ireland at home) needing a victory to clinch first place in Group 9 and an automatic spot in the playoffs.
If Germany drops more than three points in its three matches, even a draw will be enough for Israel, but then again, Israel could also drop points. In the event of a tie in the standings, the breaker is goals scored in the games between the teams and Israel and Germany drew 2-2 here.
But even if Israel does not pass Germany, only failure against Moldova and Luxembourg will prevent it from finishing in second place. Four of the 10 nations that finish in second place advance to the playoffs, as do all 10 first-place teams. Right now, Israel is fourth among those 10 teams, but not all of them have played the same number of matches (and in the groups with six teams, the matches against the last-place team is disregarded). Therefore, every point in the games against Moldova, Luxembourg and Germany are expected to make a difference.
Last night at National Stadium in Ramat Gan, all three goals were scored in the last 30 minutes of the second half.
Bibras Natcho sent a long pass to Ben Sahar in front of Jonathan Toffee's goal in the 67th minute and the Queens Park Rangers forward was on target to give Israel the lead.
In the 82nd minute, Northern Ireland leveled the score when Thomas Stewart took advantage of confusion by Israel's defense in the box.
Idan Srur, who had replaced Sahar in the 81st minute, took a free kick in the 87th minute that sailed past the heads of the Northern Ireland defense and landed in their goal.
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