It has been 11 years since the national soccer team registered a home victory against a quality opponent in international competition. Unless Luis Fernandez's squad dramatically improves in what remains of the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, this ignominious streak is likely to continue.
Israel rode the initial wave of optimism and created a couple of scoring chances early in the first half, but the excitement and enthusiasm quickly melted away as Fernandez's defense allowed Croatia to suck the momentum out of Ramat Gan Stadium en route to a 2-1 victory in last night's Euro 2012 qualifier.
With the win, Croatia vaults into first place in Group F with seven points while Israel falls to third, amassing just four points from three games.
Niko Kranjcar scored a penalty in the 36th minute, which was awarded after defender Dekel Keinan appeared to drag down a Croatian forward in front of goalkeeper Dudu Aouate.
The unmarked Kranjcar would add another goal, sneaking a pinpoint shot into the far corner of the net after Luka Modric had put him through. The Croatians now held a seemingly insurmountable 2-0 edge.
The Israeli defense was porous and its playmakers struggled to generate scoring chances. Without the injured Yossi Benayoun, Israel needed significant efforts from forwards Itay Shechter and Gil Vermouth, who were barely felt for long stretches of the game.
Shechter did make the match interesting toward the end, when in the 81st minute he passed three defenders then cut into the penalty box and sharply shot past the helpless Croatian goalkeeper, Vedran Runje, to cut the deficit. But the hosts failed to manufacture one last scoring opportunity.
Fernandez will certainly face questions about his decision to use midfielder Elroy Cohen out of his natural position. The youngster was assigned to the backline, where he seemed uncomfortable throughout the match. He will also likely be asked about defender Tamir Cohen, whose numerous errors contributed mightily to Israel's defensive breakdowns.
In any event, Fernandez's charges must regroup in time for Tuesday's encounter in Greece, a game that will be viewed as a must-win if Israel is to entertain any hopes of advancing to the tournament's finals.
After the game, the Israeli players seemed dumbfounded at the penalty the referee awarded the Croats in the first half. "It's about time that the referee whistles a penalty in our favor," said Aouate. "There was a penalty given to Croatia, but we shouldn't have come apart afterward and allowed them to score that second goal. We could have gotten a good result. We played well - Croatia is a good team, but it's not better than us."
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