Israel went down 3-1 to Italy in its first World Cup qualifier, in a brave and gutsy performance in Haifa on Monday night.
Italy took a two-goal lead in the first-half, before Israel clawed a goal back to go into the interval with the tie still alive.
When veteran Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini was sent off for a second yellow card, the home team was right back in the game. But then Italian striker Ciro Immobile sealed the win in the 83rd minute.
Israel was warmly applauded by the home crowd for a resolute performance against one of world soccer’s finest teams.
Graziano Pelle scored the first Italian goal, 14 minutes into the game, capitalizing on some poor defending. Antonio Candreva notched the second from the penalty spot.
But Israel hit back through Tal Ben-Haim, who lobbed the experienced Gianluigi Buffon in what was the game’s finest goal.
Buffon saved his team in the second half, notably when Eran Zahavi tested him. But then came Immobile’s third goal and there was no way back.
Managing his first game, Israel’s coach Elisha Levy praised his team, which had the majority of possession in the match (57% to 43%), saying “we never gave up.”
“The worst thing about the game was the result,” he said.
Israel’s next match in the qualifiers for the World Cup, to be played in Russia in June-July 2018, should be an easier challenge — away to FYR Macedonia on October 6.
In other games Monday in Israel’s Group G, Albania and Macedonia were tied 1-1 when the match was abandoned for bad weather, while Spain demolished Liechtenstein 8-0.