Israel missed a glorious opportunity to take a significant stride towards qualification for UEFA EURO 2004™ after being held to a 0-0 draw by Slovenia in their Group 1 encounter.
No way through
Despite dominating the match in the Turkish city of Antalya, Israel were unable to find a breakthrough and remained third in the table with eight points, two behind Slovenia. The situation will now have to be resolved in September, when Israel travel to Ljubljana for the return fixture.
Afek caught offside
The 2,000 Israel fans who travelled to the Atatürk stadium were twice deceived into thinking they had taken a valuable lead, but on both occasions Omri Afek was caught offside. But after the match, coach Avraham Grant remained optimistic.
"It was one of the most dominant matches I remember seeing an Israeli side play," he said. "You need half a chance to win matches but we missed those chances today. I can't recall even one occassion where Slovenia threatened to score and this is an encouraging fact."
The game started slowly but in the 12th minute Israel thought they had taken the lead. Haim Revivo's flick gave Avi Nimni the time and space to float in a telling cross and Omri Afek ghosted unmarked behind Slovenia's defence before volleying the ball into the top corner.
However, Afek's celebrations were shortlived as Swiss referee Massimo Busacca disallowed the effort for offside. Two minutes later, Avisahi Zano's pinpoint cross was met by Nimni's powerful header which narrowly missed the target.
Then Omer Afek set up his Hapoel Tel-Aviv team-mate Yossi Abuksis, whose powerful drive was saved by Slovenia goalkeeper Marko Simeunovic. On the stroke of half-time, the combination of Nimni and Afek once again had the ball in the back of the net, only for Afek, who chested down Nimni's cross before slotting the ball home, to be adjudged offside.
Grant made some tactical changes at half-time, but his side continued to be frustrated by the stubborn Slovenian defence throughout the second half. In the 80th minute, substitute Michael Zandberg crashed in a powerful volley that seemed to have beaten Simeunovic, only for it to sail agonisingly wide of the post, and with it went Israel's chances of victory.