In front of a crowd of some 30,000 fans, Israel defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-0 Sunday night in the UEFA 2016 European Championship qualifying group B soccer match.
The Israeli national soccer team had previously beaten Andorra 4-1 and Cyprus 2-1 last month, making Sunday’s victory its third consecutive win in the qualifier group.
The game was held at the Samy Ofer stadium in Haifa and was attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid. Both congratulated the team on Facebook.
Gil Vermouth, Omer Damari and Eran Zahavi all scored for Israel. Bosnia’s defender Toni Sunjic was sent off in the second half.
The victory moved Israel to the top of the qualifying group
Israel’s win, coupled together with Wales’ goalless against Belgium in Brussels, sees the top four teams in the qualifying group separated by just four points.
Vermouth and Damari scored in the first half, and after Sunjic was red-carded early in the second half, Zahavi closed out the scoring for the morale-boosting victory.
Israel leads the group with nine points from three games, one more than Wales, which also has played a game more. Cyprus beat Andorra 5-0 on a hat trick from George Efrem and has six points from four games.
They all top the group’s two teams that played in the World Cup this summer. Belgium, ranked fourth in the world, has just five points from its first three matches while Bosnia is already facing elimination with only two points from four games. Two teams from the group qualify directly for the 2016 finals.
Against a makeshift Belgian defense, Welshman Gareth Bale was the lone threat for the underdogs but could not get past goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. At the other end, Eden Hazard again failed to provide the decisive thrust for his country, something he so often does for his club Chelsea.
In a bruising battle, Belgium winger Dries Mertens was carried off and taken to hospital with a severe concussion after a clash of heads late in the match. And Belgium midfielder Marouane Fellaini was lucky not to be red carded when a clash with elbows flying left Joe Allen with a bloodied nose.
Wales celebrated the draw at the 45,000-capacity King Baudouin Stadium as a victory which brought it a step closer to qualifying for the 2016 finals.
”To come here and get a point and a clean sheet is massive for us. It keeps our momentum in the group, we haven’t lost yet,” said Wales captain Ashley Williams.
For Belgium, a quarterfinalist at the World Cup, the European qualifying campaign is quickly turning into a disappointment. Despite two teams advancing, it is trailing in the standings.
“You have to win your home games, whatever happens, said Nicolas Lombaerts. The defender came closest to giving Belgium victory when he got the ball from a goalmouth scramble in the 27th minute, turned and rifled a left-footed shot on the inside of the post before it went out of danger.
At the other end, Bale was dangerous but saw his shots well parried by Courtois. And when the Welshman broke through the defense on his own and got the angled shot past Courtois in the 57th minute, the ball just missed the far post.
AFP contributed to this report