Soccer-Israel victory eases pressure on coach Fernandez

TEL AVIV, March 26 Sat Mar 26, 2011 8:47pm GMT

TEL AVIV, March 26 (Reuters) - Beram Kayal's late goal gave Israel a 2-1 win over Latvia in a Euro 2012 Group F qualifier on Saturday to maintain their hopes of reaching the finals of a major competition for the first time since 1970.

The hosts, playing at the compact Bloomfield Stadium, delivered a performance to send the fans home with a smile and lift the pressure on embattled coach Luis Fernandez.

Israel have struggled since the Frenchman took over a year ago but he fielded a number of new, young faces against Latvia and the move paid off.

The margin of victory could have been bigger but for some wayward finishing from Israel who last qualified for a major competition when they played at the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico.

Elyaniv Barda scrambled the ball over the line to put Israel in front after 16 minutes but Latvia equalised when Kaspars Gorkss took advantage of a defensive mix-up to score in the 62nd.

Israel though increased the tempo as Fernandez introduced two attacking substitutes, Ben Sahar and Maor Buzaglo, and it was Buzaglo who set up the 81st-minute headed winner for Kayal.

The victory gave Israel seven points from five games and kept alive their chances of qualifying. Croatia lead the group with 10 points although they will be overtaken if Greece beat bottom team Malta later on Saturday.

(Writing by Ori Lewis, editing by Tony Jimenez. To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)