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Frustration peaks as Israel falls to Macedonia in World Cup qualifier

Captain Eran Zahavi booted from team after throwing armband in anger at end of 1-0 loss; ‘I exploded when I heard the boos,’ he says

Israel's soccer team playing against Macedonia in a World Cup qualifier in Haifa on September 2. 2017. (Screen capture: Kan broadcasting)
Israel's soccer team playing against Macedonia in a World Cup qualifier in Haifa on September 2. 2017. (Screen capture: Kan broadcasting)

Israel’s national soccer team lost its captain and any hope it might have had at making it to the World Cup, falling 1-0 at home to Macedonia in a qualifier match Saturday night.

Israel had been heavily favored to win, but couldn’t find its way to the back of the net for 90 minutes, with Macedonia striker Goran Pandev’s goal in the 73rd minute proving to be the game’s decider.

The loss was the latest in Israel’s lackluster group qualifying effort, and the frustration was visible toward the end of the game as booing rang out through the Haifa stadium and captain Eran Zahavi tore off his armband and threw it in anger.

Zahavi was suspended from the squad over the act, which Soccer Federation head Ofer Eini said did not represent the team’s values.

Eran Zahavi removing his armband during a soccer against Macedonia in a World Cup qualifier in Haifa on September 2. 2017. (Screen capture: Kan broadcasting)

At a post game press conference, Zahavi said booing by the home crowd had added to his frustration.

“For 40 years we haven’t made it to the World Cup. Forty without advancing. When I heard the booing, my heart exploded,” he said.

Israel’s only appearance at the World Cup was in 1970. With the loss, the team lost a chance to move within four points of second-place Italy and has almost no chance of reaching the 2018 tourney in Russia.

Israel will face off against Italy on Tuesday in Reggio Emilia, before finishing up by visiting cellar-dweller Liechtenstein and hosting powerhouse Spain in Jerusalem in early October.

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