After ending any hope of reaching the 2018 World Cup finals with the loss to Macedonia on Saturday night, Israel’s soccer team were less surprisingly defeated Tuesday, in a 1-0 loss to Italy in a qualifying game in Reggio Emilia in northern Italy.
Relatively speaking, Israel acquitted itself well in keeping the former world champions to just one goal. It was an inconsistent display for the hosts who could have pulled ahead from the first minute with Torino forward Andrea Belotti sending right of Ariel Harush in the Israel goal.
Israel were playing without captain Eran Zahavi, who quit international football after he received a year-long suspension for throwing his captain’s armband to the ground in disgust as his side were jeered by home fans in Haifa on Saturday in a shock loss to Macedonia. Tal Ben Haim took the captain’s armband Tuesday in place of Zahavi.
Little space created problems early for the Azzurri, with goalkeeper Harush saving a point blank shot from Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne just before the break.
But Italian striker Ciro Immobile found the way through after 53 minutes following an Antonio Candreva cross from the right which found the head of the Lazio forward and past Harush.
The Israeli keeper did well to keep out a Belotti header after 68 minutes but the Italians still looked less than assured.
The result all-but ensures Italy’s qualification to the World Cup finals, with 19 points, three behind group leaders Spain. Israel languish in fourth place with only nine points and cannot qualify.
Israeli manager Elisha Levi made five changes from the team that lost to Macedonia on Saturday night. Betar Yerushalayim’s Yossi Benayoun came off the bench in the second half to make his hundredth appearance for his country.
Previously Israel and Italy had played each other four times, with Italy winning three matches, and the other resulting in a 0-0 draw. A year ago when they played each other in Haifa Italy defeated the whites by two goals, 1-3.
The loss was Israel’s fifth defeat in it’s lackluster group qualifying effort.
Israel’s only appearance at the World Cup was in 1970.
Israel’s final matches in the qualifiers will be against cellar-dweller Liechtenstein and hosting powerhouse Spain in Jerusalem in early October.
AFP contributed to this report.