A hat-trick from captain Yossi Benayoun inspired Israel to victory against Malta in both teams' opening UEFA EURO 2012 Group F qualifier.
The Chelsea FC midfielder opened the scoring on seven minutes, adding his second − from the penalty spot − midway through the second half after Jamie Pace had equalised for the visitors before the break. Benayoun struck his 23rd international goal with a quarter of an hour remaining, ensuring Luis Fernández's squad head to Georgia on Tuesday in high spirits, when Malta will hope for better at home to Latvia.
Having had an effort disallowed for offside inside 75 seconds, Benayoun soon gave his side the perfect start, slotting away Lior Rafaelov's square ball into his path. Malta stunned the 16,000-strong crowd seven minutes before the break, however, when the unmarked Pace headed Roderick Briffa's free-kick past Dudu Aouate.
Almog Cohen then rattled the crossbar with a long-range effort 60 seconds later as the hosts sought a swift riposte, though they were in front for a second time on 64 minutes courtesy of Benayoun's spot kick, awarded for substitute Andrew Cohen's foul on Almog Cohen.
The irrepressible Benayoun completed his treble with 15 minutes remaining, heading in the rebound after Andrew Hogg had beaten out Gil Vermouth's strong drive from the edge of the penalty area.