Israel’s national soccer team fell 1-0 to Spain Monday night in Jerusalem in the final match in its failed bid to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Midfielder Asier Illarramendi scored the only goal of the match in the 76th minute, with a brilliant kick following a corner, struck with his right foot from well outside the penalty area.
The ball curved into the net centimeters from the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Ariel Harush.
The scoreline was relatively creditable for Israel, since Spain is one of the world’s finest teams.
The first half had been fairly lackluster, in a match that made no difference to the final standings, with neither team summoning the drive to make a serious attempt on goal.
However, the Spaniards encamped at the Israeli goal in the second half, threatening with runs, corners and crosses until they finally put the ball in the back of the net.
Israel immediately pushed back, spending several minutes in the Spanish half. Spain found the net again three minutes from time, but the goal was disallowed because the striker was offside.
In the final half minute, Israel squandered a chance to equalize.
The game was held at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium, which was packed with a capacity crowd.
The outcome of the match had no bearing on either squad’s World Cup fortunes, with Israel knocked out of contention, finishing fourth in Group G, and Spain having already secured its spot next year in Russia at the top of the group.
Despite high hopes among Israeli soccer fans that the national team would make it to the World Cup for the first time since 1970, the bid ended in failure and frustration, notably characterized by the suspension and subsequent resignation of the squad’s captain Eran Zehavi after he tore off his captain’s armband in the final minutes of a vital qualification game that Israel lost to Macedonia last month.
Israel notched only three victories during its campaign, two against Lichtenstein and the other a 3-0 win over Albania last November. The match against Albania was played under tight security measures, after police reportedly busted a group of 15 people in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia who were planning an attack during the game near the capital Tirana.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.