Monday, August 14, 2006

Striking Failures Leave Olmert Seething
Bitter Rivals Play Out Ill-Tempered Scoreless Draw
Group B "finely poised" in qualification race

SportGuardian, 13th August 2008

Israel 0 Lebanon 0
Att. 110,256

Israel's qualification campaign hung in the balance last night as angry fans booed their manager from the field at the final whistle.

In a fiery confrontation in which neither side held anything back, Israel dominated play, spending most of the game camped in the Lebanese half. It is evidence of the lack of incision in the Israeli attack that they were unable to convert their superior firepower into a victory.

Time and again the Israelis spurned chances, blasting into the crowd when it seemed easier to hit the target. Indeed, it could all have gone disastrously wrong as Lebanese substitutes unleashed a barrage of ferocious strikes in the final moments.

As expected, Israel adopted a very attacking formation, relentlessly bombarding Lebanon from both flanks and launching raids through the midfield. Most of these attacks faltered and as the game progressed Lebanon threatened to surprise everyone with a series of dangerous counterattacks.

"We underestimated their ability," was the verdict of Ehud Olmert, the Israeli manager. "The fans need to appreciate that there are no easy games at this level, especially local derbies like this. There's no doubt we see this as two points dropped rather than a point gained."

Olmert lamented his side's wayward shooting. "I thought we dominated for long spells and should have taken more from the game. Our play was hampered by some heavy challenges from the Lebanese, but we had them under siege at times."

"I thought we should've slaughtered them, to be honest."

Watching the Lebanese struggle desperately to survive repeated Israeli onslaughts, it was difficult to disagree.

Lebanese manager Hassan Nasrallah was more pleased by the result.

"We've proved to the world that we're a decent side, that we can go toe-to-toe with some of the biggest outfits in the region and match them for commitment".

"We were organised at the back and gave them one or two problems up front with some good counterattacking. They restricted us to long range efforts, but we don't have the same strength and depth in attack as they do".

It was a bad-tempered match in which several vicious fouls were committed by both sides. Tempers frayed as the Israelis struggled to break down frantic Lebanese resistance and it was only the timely intervention of the referee that stopped tensions from boiling over into all-out war. Games between the neighbouring states have had a frisson of resentment since their famous 1982 match-up in which Israel took an early lead, only for Lebanon to bring the house down late on with a thunderous equaliser.

This result seems to have shown up flaws in the seemingly invincible Israeli squad, who looked vulnerable to quick attacks on the break and had difficulty penetrating a well-organised defence.

With the return leg scheduled in Beirut next week and the possibility of difficult away trips to Damascus and Tehran, Israel are going to have a job on their hands to get their campaign back on track.

Match Stats - Shots on target

Israel - 276 Lebanon - 14

Shots off target

Israel - 14,144 Lebanon 11,976

Fouls Committed

Israel - 1120 Lebanon - 240

Referee/Assistants: K. Annan/J. Chirac/G.W. Bush

Have Your Say - 0870 2212 2154 - What did readers think of the game?

"I thought Israel surrendered, frankly. The referee didn't do us any favours either." Michelle Malkin, NY, Israel fan

"The Israelis aren't what they once were. We should've played them off the park. And into the sea, preferably." Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Tehran, Lebanon fan

"With the chances we had, we should've wiped 'em out. It should've been no contest, we could've flattened them, but now we're in deep trouble." Pam D'Atlas, NY, Israel fan

"Uhh, we wuz robbed. We'll stomp 'em next time." Charles Johnson, Berlin, Israel fan

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