Israel's national handball team arrived at Rishon Letzion's Maccabi House on Sunday and met as usual with continental opponents a taller and more powerful national squad. The key, Israel's Serbian coach Dragan Djukic knew, was to compensate for the physical inferiority with a demonstration of aggressiveness.
"Don't give him a hand," Avishai Smoller yelled in the second minute to teammate Ariel Rosental, who had knocked a Dutch player to the floor and made it clear to those present what the locals' mood was for the contest.
Smoller played wonderful defense during the first half, but on offense Israel was almost completely dependent on its only overseas player, Chen Pomeranz of German club TV Grobwallstadt, who flew above the orange hands and kept the hosts within reasonable striking distance of the Dutch.
Lacking goals from the wings or the pivots, Israel relied mainly on fast breaks and amazing saves by Gil Yaakov. The team managed to blur the size difference thanks to a cunning offense and sacrifice in the rear.
In the 26th minute, Smoller finally scored, and after 11 minutes the blue-and-whie had its biggest lead of the game at 20-15. Djukic's organized squad saved every crumb its rival left on the Rishon Letzion court. An offensive freeze allowed the Dutch to narrow Israel's lead and nearly erase it completely, but each time the Israelis regained their composure in time.
Two minutes before the end, Rosental drew a foul and a Dutch player was sin-binned for two minutes. Pomeranz, who is perfect from seven meters, converted the penalty shot to give Israel a three-goal lead, which it held for a 28-26 victory.
The win opens the race in its qualifying group for the 2015 World Championship in Qatar. In the group's other contest Sunday, Greece defeated Belgium 31-25, so that each team now has one win and one loss.
"Two days ago [in the loss to Belgium] we were despondent on the floor, and now we are reenergized," Smoller said after the game. "We didn't breathe. We knew we could win only through defense."
Djukic added, "I am happy and content. This win lifted a burden from our shoulders."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now