The Israeli national soccer team scored two second half goals to defeat Northern Ireland in Belfast on Tuesday night to keep its World Cup hopes theoretically alive.
The victory helped wash away the bigger taste of Friday’s game, when the team threw away a two goal lead to tie 3:3 with Portugal in Ramat Gan.
But earlier Tuesday, Portugal beat Azerbaijan 2-0, keep it better placed than Israel to make it through the qualifying group, and underlining the heavy cost of Friday’s tie.
The win was Israel’s first ever over Northern Ireland, in matches going back to the late 1960s.
The game, played in cold, snowy weather, featured a goal-less first half, with the hosts on top. In the second half, though, Israel gradually gained supremacy, scoring twice.
The second goal, in the 84th minute, was a particular delight, with Itay Shechter sprinting down the right-wing, beating two men and crossing perfectly for Eden Ben-Basat to slot home. Seven minutes earlier, substitute Lior Refaelov had given Israel the lead.
In Friday’s game Portugal started off strong, with front man Bruno Alves scoring a first goal within eighty seconds. But 24 minutes later, Tomer Hemed scored an equalizing goal with a dazzling strike that left the Portuguese goalkeeper helpless. In the 40th minute, Hemed once again managed to overcome the Portuguese defense, this time making a brilliant pass to forward Ben-Basat, who sent the ball soaring into the goal.
A corner kick for the Israeli team at the 70th minute made its way above the Portugese defense, and Rami Gershon headed the ball into the goal, putting the score at 3:1 for Israel. But two minutes later, Portugal’s superstar Cristiano Ronaldo took advantage of the Israeli defense’s momentary scattering, passing the ball to Hélder Postiga, who sent it past the Israeli goalkeeper. The Portuguese team completed a sensational comeback two minutes into overtime, as Fábio Coentrão scored the equalizing goal.
Israel and Portugal now have nine points each after six games in the World Cup qualifier’s Group 6, trailing behind Russia. The two teams are battling for second place, a position which would win them a ticket to the World Cup tournament to be played in Brazil, in 2014. But while Israel still has to play Russia away, Portugal will be playing Russia at home.