Israel claimed a crucial 2-0 victory over Northern Ireland at Windsor Park to keep their World Cup hopes firmly on track.
Despite struggling for the majority of the match, second half goals from Lion Rafaelov and Eden Ben Basat secured all three points for the away side.
Ireland missed a host of chances, including an incredible goal mouth scramble in the first half which saw Steven Davis, Chris Brunt and Aaron Hughes all denied by last-ditch Israeli defending.
The defeat leaves Michael O’Neill still searching for a win as manager and all-but ends Northern Ireland’s dreams of heading to Brazil.
There was no sign of any after effects from the snow that twice caused the postponement of Northern Ireland’s clash with Russia, as both teams immediately got the ball down and started sussing out each other.
Israel settled quicker and carved out the game’s first opening. Maor Melikson surged down the right and delivered a lovely ball across the box which an outstretched Itay Shechter diverted against Roy Carroll’s post.
But Northern Ireland eventually got into their rhythm and started to control the midfield, with Niall McGinn and Shane Ferguson on the flanks looking to run at their opposing numbers at every opportunity. Both delivered teasing crosses that just evaded Martin Paterson as the hosts started to carve out a number of half chances.
Daniel Lafferty was next to create an opening, as he lashed a ball towards the back post but neither Brunt nor Paterson could divert the ball past Dudu Aouate in the Israeli goal.
Then came the big chance in the first half. Paterson won the ball deep inside the Israeli half and delivered a flashed in a dangerous low cross. The ball fell to Davis who shot straight at Aouate, before chaos ensued as Israeli bodies flung themselves at efforts from Brunt and Hughes.
The second half began in the same manner as Northern Ireland continued to probe the Israeli backline, but the away side were much improved with Tal Ben Haim and Eytan Tibi magnificent at the heart of the defence.
A devastating counter attack down the Israeli right created the game’s opening goal. Great work from Shechter and Ben Basat created the space for substitute Rafaelov score to rifle into the top corner.
The goal shifted the momentum, and it was not long before Israel doubled their lead as Ben Basat met a neat cut back from Shechter to superbly fire Israel into a two-goal advantage.
Despite pressing for a winner, Northern Ireland struggled to create a clear chance as frustration mounted in their ranks. Substitute David Healy’s floated shot was spectacularly saved by Aouate as the game ran away from Ireland.
The result leaves Israel ahead of Portugal in Group F on goal difference and just one point behind group leaders Russia who have a game in hand.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Tal Ben Haim (Israel) - Marshalled the Israeli defence to an impressive clean sheet.
NORTHERN IRELAND: Carroll 7, D Lafferty 7, McAuley 7, Evans 8, Clingan 7, Davis 7 , Paterson 7, Brunt 7, McGinn 7, Ferguson 8, Hughes 7; Subs: Healy 5, McCourt 5, Magennis 5.
ISRAEL: Aouate 6, Shpungin 5, Ben Haim 8, Tibi 7, Gershon 5, Yeini 5, Natkho 6, Radi 4, Melikson 6, Shechter 6, Ben Bassat 7; Subs: Benayoun N/A, Refaelov 7, Zahavi 7.
- Sports & Recreation
- Northern Ireland
- Chris Brunt