Israel coach Eli Guttman said his side have the stomach for a fight after they continued their impressive Group F renaissance by toughing out a 2-0 victory in Northern Ireland.
The visitors' 3-3 draw at home to Portugal on Friday looked a distant memory as they laboured at Windsor Park, with Dudu Aouate the busier of the keepers. Yet everything suddenly clicked in the closing stages and goals from substitute Lior Refaelov and Eden Ben Basat sealed the points. The win leaves Israel second, a point behind leaders Russia – who have two games in hand – but perhaps more importantly, above Portugal.
"We knew it would be a very hard match in a very hard stadium and we came up against a better team than us in the first half," said forward Etey Shechter, who had a hand in both the night's goals. "We believed we would enjoy a spell in the ascendancy at some point and when that moment arrived we scored twice."
The result maintained an impressive turnaround: Israel's FIFA World Cup qualifying obituary was being pencilled two games into the campaign when they followed a lacklustre draw in Azerbaijan with a bruising 4-0 home defeat by Russia. Handsome back-to-back wins against Luxembourg gave them a foothold, though, and after four points over the past five days they are sitting pretty – ahead of Portugal on goal difference.
"I'm proud to be the coach of players that are so committed and sincere," said Guttman. "We have improved so much since the 4-0 loss to Russia. We had a bad start and I take the blame. There is still a lot of work to do but I see players willing to make sacrifices and fight for the task."
Midfielder Refaelov underlined that drive and determination, saying: "We came to Belfast for three points and that is what we got. We cannot say anything yet about the group situation and second place, but you can see we are building something here.
The way we started the campaign does not allow room for mistakes from here on in, though."
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