Italy dominated Israel at Jaffa's Bloomfield Stadium last night, easily winning 4-0 to go clear at the top of Group A and secure a place in the next round of Euro 2013.
After the disappointment of throwing away a 2-1 lead over Norway in the last minute of its opening game, Israel needed a solid performance to answer its critics. Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, Israel came out fighting and the opening minutes were finely balanced as both teams probed for openings in attack.
With Israel Zaguri a tiger in midfield, Israel kept pressing forward and looked like giving the Italians a fright - until the visitors produced a sucker punch in the 18th minute, launching a rapid counterattack involving snappy passes between three players that ended in Riccardo Saponara slotting the ball past Israel's goalkeeper, Boris Kleyman, to go 1-0 ahead.
The hosts did not give up so easily, and Israel replied with a flowing attack, with Nir Biton at its heart, that ended with Alon Turgeman miscuing a relatively easy shot. With a game based more on teamwork than individual flair, the well-drilled Israelis kept pressing forward and certainly did not look inferior to their opponents in most facets of the game, despite a few scares at the back.
But in the 37th minute Eyal Golasa slid on the damp turf as he went into a tackle on an Italian player. Even though he made an attempt to lift his feet and avoid injuring his opposite man, the referee did not hesitate to pull out the red card. It appeared a harsh decision that changed the direction of the game.
With the sides no longer balanced, the Italians had more space in midfield for their quick-passing game to express itself, and just before halftime, Italian forward Manolo Gabbiadini fired home from outside the box for Italy's second, which Kleyman should have saved.
As the half wore down, the difference in standards between the two sets of players was becoming more obvious.
The second half opened with a period of total domination by the Italians, and the inevitable third goal came from a screamer of a free kick by Gabbiadini from 20 meters that split Israel's naive defensive wall and sailed past the bemused Kleyman.
With 10 men wilting in the balmy, dusty evening air, the writing was on the wall for Israel, and Italy's fourth came when Alessandro Florenzi took a one-two pass that split the Israeli defense to slot home in the 71st minute.
As the game wore on and any chance of a fightback faded, the players on both teams dropped down a gear in a bid to save energy for their team's next encounter.
"Until Golasa was sent off we were in with a chance," said Israel coach Guy Luzon after the game. "They did everything they could and did not fall apart as the game wore on. For that I am proud of them. We will come into the game against England [on Tuesday] with the intention of doing our best. There's no problem of self-confidence in this team."