NEW YORK – Coming off consecutive positive results in their World Cup qualifying campaign, Israel came into Sunday's game against Honduras looking for a win, but also with a continued emphasis on defense and team football. Coach Eli Guttman could smile after the match, as his side secured a solid 2-0 victory over the 50th ranked Hondurans, capped by an absolute beauty of a strike by forward Hen Ezra.
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"That’s why the fans come to the stadium, to see goals like this,” the team manager said.
The game started off tentatively for both sides, as is expected when there is little on the line and the teams are unfamiliar with each other. Israel had more opportunities in the first half but Honduras had the best chance for a goal when, midway through the half, a screamer just missed the goal and careened off the crossbar. The midfield created movement, the backline did a solid job of adjusting and limiting opportunities and the teams went into the locker room tied at zero.
Guttman was happy with the effort as the team “played short distance, created some good counter attacks.”
Maccabi Haifa’s Ezra came on at the start of the second half for Yossi Benayoun and paid dividends almost immediately. In the 52nd minute he curled a shot to the top left corner, sending the Israeli supporters into a frenzy with a volley that should be noted for its grace. The defense then stepped up a few minutes later as goalie Ariel Harush and the back line deflected several solid chances from Honduras to keep their lead.
“When the defensive line and the whole team plays defense well, it helps the goalie," Guttman said, gloating. "And [Ariel] Harush was very concentrated, he saved one sure goal, and before the game I pointed to the field and said, ‘Here is your opportunity to show your quality, your potential.’ He showed it today.”
Israel’s second goal came in the 76th minute as Shimon Abuhatzira scored off of an Elyaniv Barda cross. Guttman was “happy for Shimon for his first national team goal, because he deserves it. He made a difference.” Israel had some trouble defending on corners throughout the match, and Honduras’ only goal of the day came after a defensive breakdown in the 86th minute. Luckily, it was waived off due to a handball, and the national team’s shutout streak continued for the second straight game.
After the game, the manager talked about the atmosphere at Citi Field, located in the New York City borough of Queens, in glowing terms. In regards to the pro-Honduras crowd, Guttman quipped, “I looked up and saw 30,000 people wearing blue and white, so it was good. An exciting, excellent atmosphere.” The Hondorans' colors, like Israel's, are blue and white.
“Honduras has an important game on Friday, so they rested some excellent players," Guttman acknowledged."But after seeing them against the US and Mexico, I have a very good feeling for them.”
Although the win was well-deserved, he did note that “Honduras has an important game on Friday, so they rested some excellent players, but after seeing them against the US and Mexico, I have a very good feeling for them.”
The manager spoke about his hopes for World Cup qualification, something no Israel manager has been able to achieve for over 40 years. “Each of us has a dream, but I am a person that keeps my dreams for myself," he said. "I don’t want to speak about the feeling of qualifying before we are qualified, so I will keep it for myself.”
To close the team’s trip to the Big Apple, he added, “This win is very important for us to continue on our way. We are coming back to Israel with our heads held high.”