Valiant Israel loses 3-1 to Italy in World Cup qualifier
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Valiant Israel loses 3-1 to Italy in World Cup qualifier

Israel pushes hard, but can’t prevail, against one of world’s top soccer teams

Italy's forward Graziano Pelle (R) and teammates celebrate a goal goal during the Wolrd Cup 2018 qualifying football match between Israel and Italy at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa on September 5, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)
Italy's forward Graziano Pelle (R) and teammates celebrate a goal goal during the Wolrd Cup 2018 qualifying football match between Israel and Italy at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa on September 5, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

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.

Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon reacts after making a save during the World Cup 2018 qualifier football match Israel vs Italy at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, on September 5, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon reacts after making a save during the World Cup 2018 qualifier football match Israel vs Italy at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, on September 5, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

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.

Israel's forward Tal Ben Haim celebrates after scoring during the World Cup 2018 qualification match between Israel and Italy at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa on September 5, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
Israel’s forward Tal Ben Haim celebrates after scoring during the World Cup 2018 qualification match between Israel and Italy at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa on September 5, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

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.

Israel's midfielder Nir Biton (L) evades Italy's forward Graziano Pelle during the World Cup 2018 qualifying football match between Israel and Italy at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa on September 5, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
Israel’s midfielder Nir Biton (L) evades Italy’s forward Graziano Pelle during the World Cup 2018 qualifying football match between Israel and Italy at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa on September 5, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

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.

Israel's coach Elisha Levy gestures during the World Cup 2018 qualifier football match Israel vs Italy at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, on September 5, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
Israel’s coach Elisha Levy gestures during the World Cup 2018 qualifier football match Israel vs Italy at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, on September 5, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
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