(Reuters) - Israel kept alive their hopes of qualifying for the World Cup finals with two late goals with a battling performance in a Group F qualifier against Northern Ireland in Belfast on Tuesday.
The hosts enjoyed the bulk of possession and threatened the Israeli goal more often, forcing an excellent first-half save from goalkeeper Dudu Aouate before Lior Refaelov broke the deadlock in the 77th minute.
The Club Bruges forward picked up a cross from fellow-substitute Eran Zehavi in the area and shot confidently past Roy Carroll in the Northern Ireland goal.
Swansea striker Itay Shechter set up Israel’s second goal in the 84th minute when he rounded Manchester United defender Jonny Evans on the right and crossed the ball for Eden Ben Basat to blast the ball into the net.
“We prepared for a very tough encounter and my players delivered a very responsible performance tonight in extremely difficult conditions,” Israeli coach Eli Guttman told reporters.
“We did not play good football today, but we gave it our all and battled away, we knew that we would need to be patient and wait till later in the game when the opposition was a little more tired,” he added.
Israel hung on to second place in Group F ahead of Portugal on goal difference. Both teams have 11 points from six matches. Russia lead the group with 12 points from four.
The match was played at Belfast’s Windsor Park Stadium on a freezing night after the pitch had been completely cleared of the snow that prevented Northern Ireland hosting Russia at the weekend.
Writing by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem, editing by Ed Osmond