Visitors Wales were leading Israel 3-0 late in the second half of their European Championship qualifying game Saturday night, before a sell-out crowd of 30,000 at Haifa’s Sami Ofer Stadium.
Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey headed Wales ahead, from a headed pass by Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale, just before half time. Bale scored the second from a free kick early in the second half. Ramsey turned provider for the third goal, smashed home at close range by Bale.
Israel played most of the second half with 10 men, after Eitan Tibi was sent off with two yellow cards, both incurred when thwarting Bale’s attacks.
Israel’s top scorer in the tournament to date, Omer Damari, went off injured late in the first half.
Israel had won all three of its opening fixtures — against Andorra, Cyprus and Bosnia — and sat atop qualifying Group B going into the game. Wales was one point behind, with two wins and two draws. In a group from which Belgium is widely expected to qualify, Israel and Wales could find themselves chasing the second qualifying slot.
Israeli national coach Eli Guttman joked on Friday that he had tried to call Bale’s Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo for advice on how to thwart him. “We contacted Cristiano exactly how to do it, how to stop Bale,” Guttman said. “But he didn’t answer the call.”
More seriously, Guttman said: “It is not about one man. This is a team game… We’re going to play the game as one unit not to give (Bale) space. This is our plan.”
Guttman acknowledged his surprise that Israel was topping the group, and underlined the importance of Saturday’s game and the home game against Belgium on Tuesday. He said he’d told his players “to be focused and concentrated only on the next game.”
He added: “We have 30,000 people coming and we want to send them home with a big smile on their faces.”
“Obviously we’ve put ourselves in a great position after four games,” Wales midfielder Joe Allen told the BBC on Friday. “When you think of the strength of Belgium and Bosnia and to currently be ahead of them is a great achievement. But there’s still so much more to be done.”