Israel was officially eliminated from the 2024 European Championship qualification tournament as it fell 2-1 to Romania on Saturday night at the Puskás Akadémia Pancho Arena in Felcsút, Hungary.
The blue-and-white got off to a fast start when Eran Zahavi headed home the opening goal in the third minute of the game in front of close to 3,000 fans who made the trip from Israel to their home away from home in Hungary due to the ongoing war.
However, that was the beginning of the end of Israel’s offense as Romania quickly drew even via George Puscas and then took the lead midway through the second half thanks to Ianis Hagi, son of the legendary Romanian midfielder Gheorghe Hagi, to punch its ticket to the Euro and send head coach Alon Hazan’s team packing.
Israel will play one more game on Tuesday in Andorra to finish off the campaign and then it will turn their sights on finding a way into the Euro through the playoffs, which will take place in March 2024, thanks to its showing in the Nations League.
A disappointing outcome
“I’m disappointed, we’re all disappointed,” Hazan began following the game. “We didn’t have enough focus and we weren’t responsible enough - we just didn’t have it. The fans that came here were just incredible and we are very disappointed because we wanted to make them happy as well as ourselves and the fans back at home. Now we have to turn our attention to March and the playoffs.
“We scored early and tried to get another goal, but we conceded. We tried to score in the second half and we were pushing for it, but we just couldn’t do it. We didn’t beat Romania here and therefore we didn’t deserve to advance to the Euros.”
Zahavi also reflected on the loss.
“The start was incredible and we tried to get the second, but we gave up a goal and we paid for it. We tried to give it our all, but a lot of players haven’t played recently plus we weren’t playing at home. But now we will still have a last chance in March and we will do it.”
Hazan decided to go with a starting lineup that consisted of a number of younger players who featured for the Under-19 and Under-20 teams that participated in the World Cup as well as the European Championships, respectively, over the summer.
Omri Glazer once again opened in goal while captain Eli Dasa, Roy Revivo, Miguel Vitor, and Sean Goldberg started in front of him on defense. Dor Peretz, Neta Lavi, and Oscar Gloukh manned the midfield as Dor Turgeman, Anan Khalaili, and Zahavi provided the attack up front.
One name that was absent from not only the starting lineup but also from the squad was Shon Weissman, who scored the lone goal in the first two games. The striker criticized the professional staff for not having counted on him on a regular basis and for that was left out of the squad.
The Israelis entered the third game in nine days after falling at Kosovo 1-0 and drawing 1-1 against Switzerland with only a win in this game versus Romania keeping them alive for one of the two automatic qualification places in Group I.
With over 3,000 fans in the stands, including families of hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza, at the blue-and-white’s Hungarian home away from home, there was no turning back for head coach Hazan’s charges as they looked to get off to a fast start.
And that’s exactly what they did.
Zahavi headed home a free kick by Gloukh via Vitor to give Israel a quick 1-0 lead in the third minute as the fans descended into pandemonium.
However, less than 10 minutes later Romania found the equalizer when Puscas pounded home the ball after Denis Dragus’s shot went off the woodwork.
Khalaili’s 23rd-minute chance went over the bar as Israel looked to find the go-ahead goal, while at the other end Dragus again slammed the ball off the left post as it was cleared to safety to keep the score as is.
Turgeman’s smart shot was parried away right to Khaliali who once again skied the ball above the goal as Gloukh’s opportunity off the left wing was smothered by ’keeper Horatiu Moldovan in the 33rd minute.
The blue-and-white tried to threaten the Romania goal as time ticked down to halftime, but came up empty as the two sides went into the break knotted up at 1-1.
Romania came out of halftime firing on all cylinders as Puscas’s chance was saved by Glazer while Vladimir Screciu and Razvan Marin missed the target.
Gloukh’s left-footed attempt just skipped by the left post and out, Turgeman let one rip from way outside of the box to no avail as Zahavi’s free kick went over the bar.
Hazan made a pair of substitutes in the 62nd minute as Mohammed Abu Fani and Gaby Kanichowsky came on in place of Dasa and Lavi, but the moves didn’t help as Israel conceded almost immediately.
A confused blue-and-white defense saw Ianis Hagi slip the ball into the goal by the right post to give Romania a 2-1 lead with under a half an hour remaining in the match.
Romania looked to add an insurance marker as Valentin Mihaila had an open goal in front of him, but he coughed up the ball to keep Israel within one goal as the game moved into the final quarter hour.
Israel tried to find the tying goal as Mihaila was sent off with a red card as time wound down, but each attack was stymied by an alert Romania defense as it took the win and punched its ticket to the Euro while eliminating the blue-and-white.