The day had arrived for the first of the two matches which would decide the qualification fate of two countries: The winners of CONMEBOL’s Group 2, namely Colombia, and the winners of the OFC confederation, namely Israel. With the former staging the first encounter of the double-header, it could be assumed that the Colombians were looking to build an advantage before travelling to The Middle East for the return fixture 15 days later. Israel, however, had proved during their qualification stint that they were a stubborn side with a strong defence, and they were likely to give Colombia a run for the money.
It was four weeks to the day that Colombia had played their fourth and final group stage qualifier, when they’d come from a goal down at half-time to win 2-1 against Paraguay to finish top of the group. Four weeks, compared to Israel having gone six months since they had rounded their qualification off, was next to nothing. In addition to having the benefit of playing in front of their audience, the hosts appeared to hold a further advantage in regards to more recent, telling match practice. Perhaps could it also be argued, although it would probably represent a personal point of view more than an objective fact, that Colombia’s path to reach the play-offs had been slightly more testing than Australia’s.
The Israelis had been unable to stage any friendlies during the time that had passed since that 1-1 draw in Australia, which had secured their passage through to the final qualification stage. It had not been for the lack of trying, but they had not found any team which had been willing to provide them with match practice. It was fair to assume this a major disadvantage in the circumstances, although they had certainly showed in the demanding surroundings in Sydney how they could keep their heads cool. Could they replicate that level of repose in Barranquilla?
Both nations had amassed five points from four group stage qualifiers:
CONMEBOL Group 2:
OFC group stage:
At home in Barranquilla, right on the country’s northern shore, where the nearly 1000 mile long River Magdalena ends up in the Pacific Ocean, Colombia had won both their group stage qualifiers. This intercontinental play-off tie, first leg, had been brought to the very same venue, as once again the team’s management were hoping for another powerful display of support.
Since securing top spot in CONMEBOL’s Group 2 four weeks earlier, Francisco Maturana, who was in charge of the country and even the continent’s leading club Atlético Nacional of Medellín, must have focused on their Israeli opponents. However, with their opponents winning through from their group stage already half a year earlier, there is every reason to believe that Colombia knew what there was to know about today’s opponents even prior to embarking on their own qualification journey. They would need to be very wary of those quick breaks, but at the same time they would wish to be inventive coming forward, as building up an advantage before the return fixture was instrumental.
Maturana had used only a total of 16 players across the four group stage qualifiers, and all 16 who had been selected for today’s matchday squad had also featured then, albeit two had never made it on to the pitch: Back-up ‘keeper Eduardo Niño and central defender Alexis Mendoza. While a noticeable absentee was left-sided defender Carlos Hoyos, arguably the biggest name missing from the party of 16 was holding midfielder José Ricardo Pérez. Exactly half of today’s squad hailed from reigning South American champions Atlético Nacional, who back in May had triumphed in the two-legged Copa Libertadores final against Paraguayan side Olimpia of Asunción.
Maturana had used his own version of the 4-4-2 formation during the qualification group stage: 4-2-2-2. This meant he had been very clear in how he’d positioned his four midfielders: Two at the rear and two more advanced. For the final of the four matches, the group decider at home to Paraguay, he’d even went with something which could best be described as a 4-1-1-2-2 formation, where Gabriel Gómez had been working slightly ahead of the solitary holding midfielder, Leonel Álvarez, with Bernardo Redín and the squad’s only European based player, captain Carlos Valderrama, as the advanced pair. The latter had, incidentally, had a disappointing qualifying campaign, and according to our website, he’d only accumulated an average rating of 6,60 from his four matches and been the least impressive among those who had earned a rating for at least three of their four qualifiers. How could Maturana make better use of their fragile playmaker? Was Valderrama, ‘el Pibe’, even playing in his best position?
Ageing striker Arnoldo Iguarán had been their most impressive player so far, and not just thanks to his goal haul: four from four. His average rating of 7,25 saw him joint eighth for all of the CONMEBOL section. He’d demonstrated his majestic leap, and both his headed goals in their opening group stage win at home to Ecuador had been superb finishes. He’d most likely come up against Israel’s best defender, the towering Nir Alon.
At the back, Andrés Escobar, the 22 year young libero, had been their stand-out performer. He’d earned an average rating of 7,12, and had displayed a maturity beyond his tender age. Working behind the colossal Luis Carlos Perea, Escobar would mop up whatever came through, and one would often see him direct a long pass with his efficient left foot. In addition, he’d struck free-kicks from just outside the area, from range favouring a left-footed shooter. Escobar was also a very good header of the ball, and looked a classy prospect.
While their formation at times could mean a slight lack of width, the Colombians were not afraid to let their full-backs venture across the halfway line. Both Wilson Pérez along the right and whoever played to the left of León Villa or Carlos Hoyos all acquitted themselves competently coming forward.
Altogether, Colombia looked a strong, composed team, though perhaps one where an element of surprise, and perhaps pace, was lacking? They would need to find necessary levels of creativity to break an expected defensive opponent down.
A six months lay-off had hardly been ideal for the Israelis in preparing for arguably their biggest pair of fixtures in 20 years. While they had tried to arrange friendlies, they’d not found anyone willing to face them.
Israel had won through their qualification group by the slimmest of margin. Like in South America, their group had also consisted of only three teams, and while they’d dealt with New Zealand and won their opening fixture 1-0, they had not quite managed to shake off Australia, as both encounters had ended one-all. Still, by the time they played their first away qualifier, both matches ‘Down under’ were played in the space of a week, during the same journey, Israel knew that two draws would get them across the line. And two draws was just what they got. While they had at times looked jittery against a spirited New Zealand in difficult conditions, they had been good value for their point in Australia in front of a sell-out crowd. Great credit had to go to their defence, which repelled just about everything which the hosts had thrown at them.
We’ve only had the chance to evaluate three out of their four group stage ties, but against Australia on home soil, they had proved that they were well capable of dominating an opponent. Perhaps had their goal had a strike of fortune about it, as a penalty had been awarded for what could have been perceived as a dubious handball, though they had also shown that they had enough quality in their ranks to deserve their eventual top berth.
With the playing material which had been in use during their opening day win, it could be assumed that Israel had utilised a 4-3-3 formation at home to the Kiwis. Then they switched to a five man defensive line for the visit of Australia, where their pair of Belgium based forwards, Eli Ohana and Ronny Rosenthal, were working along either channel, and with captain Moshe Sinai pushing forward from midfield. They had had attack-willing full-backs in Avi Cohen II and David Pizanti, right and left respectively, and did look a useful outfit against a physically competent opponent. Still, they’d had to settle for a point thanks to a late equalizer.
In their two away ties, they’d started out with five across the back in New Zealand, but in trying to win the game in the second half, they’d sacrificed Pizanti for Ohana, who had not been considered fit enough to start. That meant a switch from 5-4-1 to 4-4-2. This latter formation was also the one which they’d started out with in Sydney, when they had come up against a high-spirited Australian side on the day.
It has been difficult to establish Israel’s matchday squads, as identifying unused substitutes in the Oceania qualifying group has proved beyond our ability. Still, all their main men had travelled to Barranquilla. They would be confronted with an atmosphere probably even more hostile and noisy than had been the case in Sydney, but at least that Australia experience had prepared their players mentally for what they were about to face.
According to our website, their top two players from the group stage had been defenders Nir Alon and Yehuda Amar. The former had dealt superbly with the threat of Anderlecht goal machine Eddie Krnčević across the two Australia matches, while Amar had proved himself a steady figure whether it be at libero or at left-back. The fact that he’d got the nod ahead of England based Pizanti for the decider in Sydney, showed what faith the management team had in him.
Six months on from their final group stage qualifier, Israel were raring to go in Barranquilla. It was certainly hoped that Itzhak Schneor and Ya’acov Grundman had laid the right foundations.
For this intercontinental affair, FIFA had appointed a European officiating trio: From France came the very well reputed Michel Vautrot, 43 years of age for the time of this qualifier. Along with him were 45 year old Alain Delmer and Gérard Biguet, like monsieur Vautrot 43 years of age. Both linesmen were listed with qualification action on their respective CVs. Delmer’s first such appointment, his fourth international fixture over all, was a 1984 European Championship qualifier between Northern Ireland and Turkey (2-1). He had even been in action as referee during the ongoing World Cup qualification, namely for the Bulgaria v Denmark (0-2) tie in April this year. His total was nine internationals, whereas Biguet’s equivalent was 11. Two of those had come during this qualification: England v Sweden (0-0) and Portugal v Belgium (1-1). Biguet’s greatest honour had surely come during the 1988 Olympics in South Korea, where he had been in charge of the final (Soviet Union v Brazil 2-1).
Michel Vautrot was not just one of the best, but also one of the most experienced referees on the world stage. He had taken charge of his first international fixture as far back as 1977, and since he’d refereed in the 1982 World Cup and the 1984 and 1988 European Championships. In the latter, he’d been the man in the middle for the final between the Netherlands and the Soviet Union (2-0). For whatever reason, he had not been selected for Mexico ’86 (at least not in a refereeing capacity). A total of eight previous World Cup qualifiers were also among the features on his impressive CV, of which two had come during the ongoing qualification tournament: Northern Ireland v Republic of Ireland (0-0) and Turkey v Soviet Union (0-1).
At club level, arguably Vautrot’s finest achievement had come in 1986, when he’d been selected as referee for the European Cup Final between Steaua Bucharest and Barcelona (0-0, 3-0 on penalties). He had made his debut in the French top flight as far back as 1971/72. It was fair to say that this play-off fixture was in capable hands.
The two countries had never previously clashed in football.
Estadio Metropolitano was erected with a view to being among the Colombian stadia meant in use for the 1986 World Cup. Obviously, the country would never get to stage that tournament, though the stadium was opened on time, and with an official capacity said to be just below the 50,000 mark. However, figures circulating from this ongoing World Cup qualification suggest that there was enough space to accommodate a considerably larger population.
The stadium, which only in 1991 would be renamed after former national team footballer and manager Roberto Meléndez, a citizen of Barranquilla, was the home of local club Atlético Junior. Two of the players in today’s squad of 16 were therefore looking to appear at their very home stadium: Wilson Pérez and Alexis Mendoza.
|1 René Higuita||23||Atlético Nacional|
|2 Andrés Escobar||22||Atlético Nacional|
|4 Wilson Pérez||22||Atlético Junior|
|5 León Villa||29||Atlético Nacional|
|10 Bernardo Redín||sub h-t||26||Deportivo Cali|
|11 Rubén Darío Hernández||24||Millonarios|
|12 Carlos Valderrama (c)||28||Montpellier|
|14 Leonel Álvarez||45′||24||Atlético Nacional|
|15 Luis Carlos Perea||25||Atlético Nacional|
|16 Arnoldo Iguarán||32||Millonarios|
|17 Luis Fajardo||26||Atlético Nacional|
|7 Albeiro Usuriaga||on h-t||23||Atlético Nacional|
|3 Alexis Mendoza||28||Atlético Junior|
|8 Gabriel Gómez||29||Independiente Medellín|
|9 Juan Jairo Galeano||27||Atlético Nacional|
|19 Eduardo Niño||22 Santa Fe||Atlético Nacional|
|1 Bonni Ginzburg||24||Glasgow Rangers|
|2 Avi Cohen II||27||Maccabi Tel Aviv|
|3 Yehuda Amar||25||Hapoel Ramat Gan|
|4 Nir Klinger||73′||23||Maccabi Haifa|
|5 Nissim Barda||11′||33||Shimshon Tel Aviv|
|6 Nir Alon||26||Hapoel Petah Tikva|
|7 Moshe Sinai (c)||28||Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv|
|8 Efraim Davidi||30||Hapoel Be’er Sheva|
|9 Shalom Tikva||sub 62′||24||Standard Liège|
|10 Eli Ohana||sub 77′||25||Mechelen|
|11 Ronny Rosenthal||26||Standard Liège|
|14 David Pizanti||on 62′||27||Maccabi Netanya|
|15 Nir Levin||on 77′||27||Gent|
|x Yossi Mizrahi||36||Shimshon Tel Aviv|
|x Shlomo Iluz||30||Hapoel Be’er Sheva|
|x Eitan Aharoni||26||Hapoel Kfar Saba|
With both countries’ second ever World Cup participation at stake, the tension inside the stadium around the time for kick-off must have felt so dense you could almost cut through it with a knife. The sell-out crowd made sure to create a carnival-like atmosphere, and naturally the idea would’ve been to intimidate the travelling contingent of players from Israel. You could hardly help feeling that even though it was probably a slightly daunting experience for the visiting players to have arrived in order to play out a fixture of this magnitude in such boisterous surroundings, that they were nevertheless fortunate to be able to have this involvement at all. Very rarely, a team from outside of South America got to witness first hand what it was like to feature in a telling game on this continent.
While the hosts were clearly favourites, at least for this particular fixture, and probably also for the play-offs as a two-legged affair altogether, Colombia must have been aware that Israel had yet to lose so far in the current World Cup qualification. Granted, their group stage opponents might not have been major names in world football in New Zealand and Australia, but the Israelis had been able to travel ‘Down under’ and get both the results which they’d wanted. Still, they must have felt a certain level of uneasiness at the fact that they had not been in international action for half a year. Could they get quickly enough into their stride?
The visitors were left to deal with commencing the game, and they kicked off through striker Eli Ohana and their captain Moshe Sinai.
A bit of rustiness could’ve been expected on the Israelis’ behalf from the offset, since they’d not been in action for half a year at this level. Added to the fact that they were playing in such a crucial game in very unfamiliar circumstances, the visitors could’ve been forgiven for just booting the ball clear whenever it came to any of their players. With so much at stake, any mistake could prove decisive, and no one would obviously wish to turn his country’s scapegoat.
Colombia’s group stage had not been all that convincing, although when they’d looked good, they had really torn into their opponents. They had dominated in their opening game against Ecuador, and then delivered an exquisite second half in the final game against Paraguay, when a change-around in personnel and formation during the interval had led to a revived team performance for the final 45 minutes. Interestingly, they started out this time like they had set themselves up during that first half against the Paraguayans, and the opening sequences were somewhat indifferent. It felt natural to blame it on nerves.
It did take some time for the game to settle, as neither team managed to find any rhythm in the hurried first few minutes, where the frantic pace got the better of the players. If Colombia’s idea had been to go straight for the throat of the visitors due to the Israelis’ lack of match practice, their players could not put the plan into fruition. Israel had their share of the possession in the early stages, where they had at times wanted to be direct going forward. An example was Moshe Sinai’s attempt at playing Ronny Rosenthal down the left hand side with a cross field pass, though true to his reputation, eccentric goalkeeper René Higuita had come charging out of his goal and cut the pass off 25 yards out. It had been a sweeper’s job executed to perfection.
The Israeli team had looked solid when they had been sitting back in their final group stage qualifier, the 1-1 draw in Australia, and somewhat similar tactics this time around had certainly been expected. This was, at least on paper, a tougher away test than the one in Sydney had been, as they were up against a team where the various individuals were more skillful on the ball than the Australians had been. It would take a very disciplined performance defensively from the visitors to achieve a creditable result to take back home for the return fixture a fortnight later.
After seven or eight minutes where little had gone right for the hosts, and where there had been some jitteries throughout their side, it did appear as if the Colombians were eventually beginning to settle, and in a team of not a whole lot of attacking width, wide left forward Rubén Hernández would be key with his ability to maintain his position, and through his low centre of gravity and ability to take his full-back on. His battle with Israeli right-back Avi Cohen II would for sure be not just an interesting one, but also one which could help decide the outcome of the game.
Luis Fajardo had been brought on at half-time when Colombia had been looking to turn the game against Paraguay around, and boy had the technically gifted attacking midfielder delivered. He had put on a sublime 45 minute performance in which he’d easily outshone the internationally much more acclaimed Carlos Valderrama, whom he had replaced. This time around, the Atlético Nacional ace was a starter in midfield along with both Valderrama and also Bernardo Redín. Could they make use of all of these blissfully gifted attacking players at the same time?
There was an early booking for Israeli libero Nissim Barda, a 33 year old veteran who had not featured at international level for four years. He was a feature at Tel Aviv club Shimshon, and was filling in for the absent Yaron Parselani, who had done well in this role during the draw in Australia. Barda had earned his yellow card for tripping Fajardo, who had made fine advance through the centre, and as he’d sidestepped the defender, Barda had brought Fajardo to the floor. For any defensive player to earn a caution so early in a game is tricky, as you’ll need to hold back a little in your challenges. Israel were expecting the hosts to come at them in waves, and losing a man was definitely not an option. Barda would need to act with care from now on.
Visitors drop deeper
As Colombia gradually seize greater control of the proceedings, there’s still not been any direct threats at Israel ‘keeper Bonni Ginzburg. The 24 year old had moved abroad since their group stage qualification, and apparently he was enjoying his new lease of life in the major Scottish city of Glasgow. He had generally looked secure during their previous qualifiers, and a tendency in his game had been that he’d often come to the edge of his six yard box, or in some cases even further out, to try and get to crosses from either side. So far, with the quarter of an hour mark approaching, he’s not even needed to do that. He’s seen a couple of wayward shots from Bernardo Redín and Wilson Pérez.
Israel had looked comfortable with their four man defensive unit sitting deep in Sydney, while the two rear midfield men, Nir Klinger and Efraim Davidi, had patrolled just ahead of their central defenders. This appeared to be the recipe once again, and the latter pair would need to be very alert to the threat of the dynamics in Colombia’s attacking midfield area. Both Klinger, still young and indeed learning at this level, aged just 22, and Davidi had both acquitted themselves well so far, indeed showing that necessary level of defensive discipline to not stray out of position and expose the defence.
They were beginning to turn the screw by now, Colombia, and with just over 18 minutes having been played, they even ask questions from referee Michel Vautrot. Striker Arnoldo Iguarán, who had notched four times in four group stage qualifiers, had attempted to latch on to a ball inside the area, but as he looked to have evaded full-back Avi Cohen’s attempted tackle, Iguarán went down like he’d been shot. While it is difficult to deny that there had been contact, the striker’s theatrical dive probably helped convincing the referee that he’d made the most of it, and so Vautrot took no action. It seemed a good decision.
Less than two minutes on, Ginzburg must make his first save of the afternoon. The Colombian midfield was starting to express itself, and though they had toiled so far without making any proper inroads into the Israeli defence, some fine little triangles and combinations involving messrs Valderrama, Redín and Fajardo were beginning to come off, and the powerful Redín it was who drew a top class one-handed save from Ginzburg to tip the ball over following a left-footed shot from 26-27 yards. A goalkeeper at international level should always have saved it, but it was still a qualified stop by the Glasgow Rangers man.
Israel had arrived with identical intentions from what they’d harboured during their visit in Sydney, and their 4-4-2 formation did look very similar to the one which they’d displayed there in Australia. One could say that the 1-1 draw then had served as fine practice ahead of this demanding journey, although the huge time gap since could have wiped out most of those defensively secure feelings which they’d generated.
Ahead of Ginzburg, the four defenders were this time, right to left: Avi Cohen II, libero Nissim Barda, Nir Alon and Yehuda Amar. Three of them started in the qualification for a fifth time from a possible five, while Barda was the newcomer. From Cohen, you would get physical strength, as he’d look to deal with the hosts’ left-sided forward, and also add height for defensive set-pieces. Cohen, who had also moved clubs since their last international outing, from Beitar of Jerusalem to Maccabi Tel Aviv, was a reliable defender who was also not afraid to venture forward. He’d rarely done so in Australia, and would certainly be focused on defending this time around, too.
With the domestically experienced Barda having been brought into the centre for the libero task, the 33 year old was their third player to turn out in this position since the start of the qualification. Amar had begun life here for their first three qualifiers, working behind both a single and a pair of stoppers. Replacing Parselani since Sydney, Barda had so far positioned himself well, and had arrived to crucially cut off Hernández’ alley towards goal from the home side’s left. The tall Alon ahead of him, who had done so well in both matches against the Australians, was marking Iguarán, while Amar started for the second successive time out in the left-back position. He’d strayed once across the halfway line, but had quickly headed back once losing possession. This defensive unit seemed a solid one.
Klinger and Davidi’s closing down work ahead of the central defenders was highly important to Israel’s attempt at shutting the home side out. Perhaps had the former been the more visible of the two so far in the qualification, but Davidi was someone very true to the manager’s instructions, and he’d not shirk away from his duties. He’d often remain quite close to Valderrama, although the way that the home side’s attacking midfielders would frequently interchange positions, he’d even come into contact with both of Redín and Fajardo. The same applied for Klinger, whose aggression levels perhaps weren’t quite the same, but who did have a higher level of quality in possession. Positioning was another strength of his, and he’d head away or block crosses from either side.
While Israel were equipped with a defensive midfield pair, they also had two men working according to vastly more attacking instructions. Shalom Tikva and Moshe Sinai were operating right and left respectively, although not particularly wide; more towards the centre. Tikva had been short of match practice towards the end of the group stage, when he’d only just recovered from an injury lay-off. Here, in addition to displaying his ability in holding on to the ball in tight situations, and even making mazy runs forward, he would look to track back. Tikva was not renowned for his defensive work first and foremost, but should Álvarez look to move ahead from his deep lying role, it would typically be the Standard Liège man backtracking. As for captain Sinai, his strength remained on the ball, especially when he had a bit of rare spare time, as he could look up and hit a pass with his precise left foot.
Eli Ohana and Ronny Rosenthal were once again Israel’s strike force, and in a team otherwise of little width, especially coming forward, the pair of attackers were set up to work along the channels, and the latter of them even further wide, almost as an inverted winger. Rosenthal had great pace, and they were hoping to exploit this on counters, while Ohana had greater ability in possession. As a pair, they actually worked rather far apart, which meant they did not coexist to a great extent, although they would not be foreign to swapping sides from time to time. Both had scored twice so far in the qualification.
Can the home side carry on?
The hosts had shown some of their outstanding attributes in the past few minutes, pinning the visitors back, and even testing Ginzburg. When they were switched on, the Colombians were capable of some intricate interpassing, shifting the ball around at fine pace, and maintaining an attacking flow. However, they would struggle to arrive at clear cut opportunities, much due to the Israelis’ very defensive nature, and the fact that they themselves lacked bodies inside the area. A lot of their play was concentrated towards the left, where Hernández was very busy, while goal attempts so far had only come from afar.
At the halfway point in the first half, the hosts counter at pace for the first time, as a Sinai free-kick inside the Colombian half is cleared, and as the ball finds its way to Valderrama, the home skipper looks up to spot Hernández unguarded halfway inside the Israeli territory. The pass is precise, and Hernández advances forward, with Barda attempting to close him down. The wide forward elects to shoot from the edge of the area, although he can’t direct his attempt away from Ginzburg, who gratefully collects. Then, a couple of minutes later, the ‘keeper must in action once again, as he dives to his right to push around the post a Wilson Pérez free-kick from 32 yards out. Replays reveal how it would probably have snuck just wide anyway.
A closer look at Colombia
The starting eleven has ten of the same men who had begun against Paraguay, and even the formation is identical. That complex 4-1-1-2-2 numbers combination had not served the Colombians well during a lacklustre first half then, but here it is working a treat so far, although with 25 minutes gone, only Redín’s shot had truly testet the goalkeeper.
Colombia have René Higuita in goal, like the 23 year old had been for all of their four group stage qualifiers. He’d caused an unnecessary injury time penalty which he’d subsequently conceded during the loss in Paraguay, but mainly been sound, and at least once every game he’d veered off outside of his area. This was a Higuita trademark move by now, and it would typically catch the opposition off-guard. Thus, he could be an asset in constructing a quick, surprising move.
There were six Atlético Nacional players in their starting eleven. The Maturana led side which had won the continental club championships back in May had some wonderfully talented players in their ranks, and this was highlighted through 22 year young centre-back Andrés Escobar. The left-footed defender was their spare man, as he was working just behind and to the left of his team mate from Medellín, the colossal Luis Carlos Perea. The latter, a 25 year old, would typically enter challenges with anyone who came within Colombia’s final third of the pitch, and he would not be defeated in the air by anyone from Israel. While he wasn’t quite as accomplished in possession as Escobar, Perea was still confident enough in his own ability to move inside the opposition’s half with the ball at his feet.
The full-backs were Wilson Pérez along the right and León Villa to the left. In particular the former was of an attacking nature, something which perhaps was not so odd, considering that they were lacking in natural width along their right hand side. Pérez was something so rare as a full-back who would accept corner taking responsibility, as he’d look to swing balls in from the right, though using his right foot, they’d move away from the goalkeeper. He’d assisted Iguarán for both goals in that 2-0 win against Ecuador back in August. Villa, meanwhile, was also happy to move forward, though his attacking freedom seemed slightly limited in comparison to that of Pérez. He had a fine left foot for swinging crosses from open play into the area.
Colombia’s solitary holding midfielder, like last time around, was the tenacious Leonel Álvarez. He’d served a one-match suspension during the qualification group stage after seeing red for a foul on Paraguay’s Jorge Nunes during their defeat in Asunción. On his day, Álvarez maintained a very high level of professionalism, and while he was someone who would never give the opposing attacking midfielders a moment’s peace, he would be yet another who was quite comfortable in possession. He’d dragged an effort from distance well wide earlier in the half.
The three players working ahead of Álvarez were the heartbeat of the team. There was no denying the fact that Carlos Valderrama was the big brain behind their operations, though the opposition would often be so aware of him that they’d rarely allow him the luxury of space. Valderrama and Bernardo Redín were the two more forward among the midfielders, and while the former had those silky skills and wonderful vision, Redín was much more direct, looking to run at an opponent or strike it goalwards. His brute strength made him difficult to stop once he’d gained momentum, though he’d not quite fired on all cylinders so far. Still, he’d had that effort which Ginzburg had had to tip over.
The 26 year old Luis Fajardo had come in for Gabriel Gómez, and there could not have been much doubt about his starting berth following his masterful second half performance after coming on at half-time against the Paraguayans. Working predominantly in that space between Álvarez and Valderrama/Redín, Fajardo had plenty of surge in him, and he would skip past opponents with ease, looking either to interact with the pair of attacking midfielders or engage in little triangles anywhere. He also loved to thread a pass through the Israeli defensive midfield, although it had not quite come off yet. While he was so far not quite as dominant as he had been a month earlier, he had shown plenty which led anyone in attendance to believe that he’d remain their main orchestrator. This was despite the presence of Valderrama.
Arnoldo Iguarán had so far not had much luck from the sizeable Alon, and working right through the centre, the senior striker should perhaps look to move into the channels, to try and stretch his opponent. The 32 year old had been on fire during the group stage, but that moment when he’d looked to be brought down for a possible penalty earlier apart, he’d not yet got going. Wide to his left was Rubén Hernández, who was easily the more eyecatching of the two front men hitherto. He’d use his energy and pace to worry Cohen, and he’d constantly be looking to get on the ball. Hernández it was who had struck the matchwinning goal last time around, and when he was on song, like he potentially was here, he was a major asset to Colombia.
Those openings keep eluding Colombia
The hosts apply almost ceaseless pressure, but they still find it hard to create those necessary openings. Despite their inability to pose questions from the Israeli goalkeeper, they’re doing well: They keep the ball moving, they maintain a decent level of pace, and not least does their midfield display a fine level of dynamism. While Álvarez usually remains at the back among the central quartet, Fajardo, Redín and Valderrama do well in interchanging positions, and there appears to be no particular order regarding who does what among them: They all advance ball at feet, look for options further forward, and at times also look to make use of the right-sided channel. This latter feature seems to be the task of Valderrama and Redín more than Fajardo’s.
For all their struggles to keep hold of the ball and try to bring some respite for their overworked lines, the Israeli team impresses in how they do not lose their cool or focus. The ball rarely makes it far inside the hosts’ half of the pitch, and it usually comes back towards the visitors quickly. The players in the light blue shirts do not give in to any temptation which could prove a distraction, and they constantly move their feet, looking to close down and chase. Despite the fact that they were lacking in match practice as a unit, they give away precious little space, and whenever Ginzburg must work, it is in most situations after a shot from distance. Not that either such has had him duly worried hitherto, still with the exception of Redín’s effort on 20 minutes. With more than half an hour on the clock, any breakthrough does not appear to be imminent.
Final 15: less pace
It was perhaps inevitable that Colombia’s tempo would gradually subside, and as a result, defending was hardly made more difficult from the visitors’ perspective. The hosts had far from been as prolific down their right hand side as they had through Hernández along the left, which was obviously due to the fact that they were without a natural wide man ahead of full-back Wilson Pérez, who did what he could to compensate. Always someone willing to have a pop at goal, he would even overdo it, as shooting off balance, from the channel, 35-40 yards out, was never going to break the deadlock.
The situation is different along the left, where the busy Hernández is a constant thorn in the visitors’ side. With pace and trickeries in abundance, the Millonarios forward would time and again be played down that flank, and while none of his crosses was ever met by either of his team mates, at least not in dangerous territory, he won numerous corners, either off Cohen or libero Barda. Both Valderrama and Fajardo knew how to search for Hernández, while Redín would appear more towards the right hand channels as the first half was entering its final phase.
Israel’s defending is nearly spotless, and between the sticks Ginzburg looks very alert. He is certainly not afraid to come off his line when a corner is being played towards the back post, as appears to be Redín’s modus operandi from the left wing flag. On one occasion the Scotland based custodian opts to punch, something which eventually sees Hernández, who has positioned himself 25-30 yards out in case a second ball would find its way into that territory. When it did, he pounced, albeit with his weaker right foot, and from 25 yards out he struck it ferociously over. At least it had been a shot directed towards goal, and five minutes from the break, those had been rarer and rarer.
Higuita has not had a single save to make until the first half just enters time added on. After Álvarez had obstructed Ohana some 15 yards inside the Colombian half, and even picked up a soft yellow card in the process, Sinai spots the goalkeeper off his line, and the skipper attempts an audacious lob from nearly 40 yards. It didn’t travel quickly enough to unsettle Higuita, though, who arrived back on his line well in time to catch the ball just below the crossbar.
Nearly two and a half minutes are added at the end of the half. There had been a couple of injury-breaks, but still that amount of additional time appeared exaggerated. Not that it brought further action inside either penalty area either, so the pair of doughnuts on the scoresheet were never in danger of being replaced. Goalless at the break.
Since Colombia’s pressure, which they had managed to maintain for at least a 25 minute period during the opening chapter, had been less prominent towards the latter stages in the first half, one was perhaps looking at their formation and thinking that this was hardly getting the best out of the players which were at their disposal. This is precisely what had happened against the Paraguayans a month earlier, although the opening half on this occasion was certainly an improvement on that. Maturana had made a double substitution during half-time then, but with a second leg to come in two weeks’ time, he could surely not afford to be so bold this time around.
And rightly so. As the teams reappeared, we learnt that there had indeed been a change made in the hosts’ line-up, where the increasingly ineffective Redín had been left behind in the dressing room, and right-sided forward Albeiro Usuriaga, who had come on to great effect against Paraguay, was brought on. While it would need visual confirmation, it did seem likely that Maturana was returning to the 4-3-3 formation which had proved so successful on that occasion, with a natural wide player down the right arriving.
For the visitors, the starting eleven remained intact. They looked on as Iguarán and Valderrama brought the game back to life through the second half kick-off. Big 45 minutes to come!
Early second period tendencies
From an Israeli perspective, there had been little reason to alter much, since they had had few difficulties in holding their own, despite being pinned on the back foot for large chunks of the first half. What was interesting was whether any change in Colombian approach would affect the visiting team and so prompt any changes. While it is hard to suggest what would’ve been deemed an acceptable defeat from their point of view, anything beyond a two-goal loss would start to look like ‘mission impossible’. Could they snatch a draw – magnificent! A defeat by the slimmest of margins? Probably not too bad either. They were most likely aware of the hosts coming at them to a greater extent from early in the second half.
Maturana had resorted to a three-pronged attack line twice during their four matches long qualification group stage. It had happened in both matches against Paraguay, although away from home, with some 20 minutes left for play, they’d hardly been able to adopt to a new mindset before Álvarez made sure to get himself sent off. What would’ve been 4-3-3 instead turned into a 4-2-3, so the only proper evidence that Colombia had appeared in 4-3-3 during the qualification was during the game which we’ve used as a reference point several time already: The home tie against those Paraguayans. If they could replicate that second half performance, Colombia would be fine.
While the start to the final 45 is a sedate one, the 23 year old substitute from Maturana’s club side Atlético Nacional got to stretch those long limbs of his on 50 minutes. He dummied Amar and strode towards the byline, from where he had put a cross into the centre. While Iguarán would’ve been the natural target, the ball drifted beyond the centre-forward’s reach, though Hernández had arrived to connect first time, only to see his close range effort, which more than likely was goalbound, desperately blocked by full-back Cohen. It had been a huge goalscoring opportunity, and Usuriaga had introduced himself to the visiting team. Could Amar, who now was facing a totally different challenge than so far, live with him?
The Colombian formation since the restart for sure is that 4-3-3. As Redín had gone off, it was now up to Fajardo and Valderrama to deal with the two attacking midfield positions. Not that the former would play in such an advanced position right from the off, as he would come into the centre-circle to pick the ball up and try to thread it through Israeli legs in order to reach Valderrama ahead of him. The home captain now seemed to play even further up the pitch. Álvarez remained the holding man, but if time passed and that opening goal still had not arrived, surely, even he would be thrust with greater responsibility as the deep-lying playmaker.
While that blocked Hernández effort had been a major opportunity, the Colombians have the chance to strike on target only a couple of minutes later, although Fajardo can’t keep his shot down when presented with a shooting chance from the edge of the area. There were signs of improvement for the hosts. To have Fajardo, who had played a breathtaking second half against Paraguay, involved to a greater extent was surely not a bad idea. He’d coexisted well with Usuriaga four weeks ago. Could they retrieve that bond on this occasion?
The general pace so far in the second half, with the clock coming up to the hour mark, has not been much greater than during the slower spells of the first half, though there had indeed been signs of Colombia suddenly bursting into life. When they accelerated, like for sure Usuriaga was capable of, the Israelis could not quite live with their opponents, but the host players needed to do it more regularly, and not just in brief glimpses. Also, while Hernández had been a big first half threat, he had yet not got going in the second half. And Valderrama? Well, he had displayed some of his delicate passing, but altogether he had been something of a disappointment. Again. He’d been woeful in the 45 minutes which he’d got last time out. This has been a step up, but more was expected.
Despite a couple of awkward second half moments hitherto, the Israelis must be starting to dream about a scoreless draw to take back home. Their midfielders, and in particular the two men at the base in Klinger and Davidi, were moving their legs non-stop, and rarely allowing the opposition time. Davidi was part of the reason why Valderrama had not lived up to his reputation. And Alon continued to mark Iguarán out of the game. Also, Cohen was doing a decent job against Hernández, despite conceding first half corners. If they could only find some support for Amar now, they would look sound. Barda was covering well behind both full-backs, but it seemed hazardous to allow space in behind Amar at all, considering the potential damage which Usuriaga was capable of.
Substitution and probings
Belgium based Israeli midfielder Shalom Tikva had hardly excelled, although it was indeed demanding circumstances in which to stand out for a visiting attacking midfielder. With his position somewhat to the right in midfield, more advanced in comparison to Klinger and Davidi, he had been on the ball a few times during the first half, looking for those forward passes of his, although execution had been below par. In fact, much due to the reason that he’d been out injured during parts of the qualification group stage, Tikva had not really got going during the current Israeli World Cup campaign. On 62 minutes, he’s seen slightly hobbling as he comes across to the touchline to be replaced by David Pizanti. With the latter having played along the left hand side in his outings hitherto in the qualification, was it a straight swap, though?
Colombia continue to probe and look for openings, and coming up to 20 minutes in the second half, they certainly do intend to make greater use of Fajardo, who looks to have slotted in higher up in the pitch, more or less alongside Valderrama by now; both appearing as attacking midfielders. The former proceeds to play one of his little trademark forward passes into the area, where Iguarán has tried to shake off the constant attention from Alon. And though the striker does manage to get on the end of Fajardo’s angled ball, he finds himself too close to Ginzburg, who’s come off his line to tighten the angle. The ‘keeper saves well. Later, the same Fajardo sets centre-back Escobar up for a shot from the edge of the area, although using his weaker right, his effort ends up several stories over the goal frame. Down the other end, a minute after the introduction of Pizanti, Sinai had tried his luck from 35 yards after interpassing with Klinger. His shot, too, had been skied.
There is a lot of action-repeat during this second half, and really, Atlético Nacional man Fajardo always seems to be in the thick of the action. It has to do with the way that the hosts are set up to play, of course, but he does stand out next to Valderrama. It should be said to the France based superstar’s cause, though, that he’s gradually improved, and he’s certainly benefitted from having the mercurial Fajardo alongside him. They combine well. Both are looking to feed the pair of wide forwards, although it is quite remarkable how Hernández’ efforts have almost dried up in comparison to what had been the case in the opening 45 minutes. Usuriaga down the right, though, remains a contant worry to Amar, who is pleased to see Barda in attention behind him.
Israel’s substitution has not brought about a change in formation
Pizanti, incidentally, had indeed slotted into that midfield position of Tikva’s. One could perhaps have thought that his coming on would see the visitors switch to a five man defensive line, with Amar coming into the centre, and the QPR man out on the left hand side in defence, but it has not happened. They are still 4-4-2, and Pizanti is looking to add further stability along the right through his workrate and dedication. He might not be the strongest player one on one defensively, and so he should rather concentrate on lending Cohen behind him a hand if needed. Pizanti is also equipped with a fine left foot, although from the right, he’s not too likely to make use of it for crossing purposes. Not that Israel are looking to play their midfielders in along the channels or flanks either. That’s still left for the pair of forwards.
Third caution of the game
Higuita clearly seems to think that those ahead of him are too slow in their actions, so on 72 minutes, he collects the ball in his area, and then proceeds to venture forward. He expertly skips a couple of feeble attempts at tackles, and makes it all the way into the centre-circle, where he’s brought to the floor by Klinger’s challenge from behind. It was a traditionally daring move by the Colombian goalkeeper, and one which brought rapturous acclaim from the stands. The referee even booked Klinger for his intervention, something which was just about right. It should be added, though, that there always appeared to be a fine spirit between the sets of players, as they’d usually make sure their adversary was alright after a challenge. FIFA’s ‘fair play’ wish appears to have been granted on this occasion.
In the wake of Klinger’s card, Israel would win back possession, and Sinai was looking to play himself across the pitch and towards the left hand side, halfway inside the hosts’ half. He’d just about overdone an attempt at escaping the attention of central defender Perea, and so it ended up with a Colombian throw. They engaged Fajardo from Wilson Pérez’ throw-in, and in turn, he found Valderrama, who fed Hernández and got the ball back inside the visitors’ territory. Valderrama picked out Usuriaga, but while the half-time substitute had previously sought to get himself to the byline, he probably surprised Amar by moving inside from 30 yards, and then played in Fajardo on the edge of the area. The latter received the ball, appeared to have orientated himself beforehand, and proceeded to turn and nutmeg Barda, who’d not got near enough to tackle. This clever action released Usuriaga, who had continued his run, and upon receiving the ball back from Fajardo well inside the area, he easily slotted it past Ginzburg. Massive, massive goal for the hosts. Would they be content with ‘just’ this one, or would they seek further?
How does the goal affect the visitors?
Israel must still believe that they can turn a deficit of just one goal around in the home leg, and so there appears to be no reason for them to panic. They have not displayed anything even remotely resembling attacking cohesion throughout the game, and their quick transitions have not come off. The pair of forwards have been left isolated and operating too far from dangerous territory, and neither of Ohana nor Rosenthal had managed to conjure up anything special. Whenever the ball came airborn, Perea had been there to head it away. Now, with only Sinai really capable of orchestrating special moves from midfield, after Tikva’s substitution, they seem further from scoring than they have been all game.
It is at this point which joint managers Schneor and Grundman make their second substitution, although replacing one forward for another did not seem like a move which would change their attacking fortunes around. Perhaps were they just needing some fresh legs to give chase whenever Colombia were in possession either at the back or in midfield? Nir Levin, 27 years old, who had moved from Hapoel Petah Tikva to Gent in Belgium, thus becoming the fourth Israeli in their current squad to feature there, had previouly been an unused substitute in the qualification, and was brought on for the final quarter of an hour or so when he replaced Ohana.
Hosts still try to assert themselves
The Colombians do wish to add another to their cabinet before the long journey to the Middle East, and there is no change in the way they play after they’ve got that breakthrough goal. They remain confident in possession, trying to angle balls out wide either right or left, through the means of either one of their central midfield three. While Usuriaga had very much been the busier of the two wide forwards since being introduced, Hernández had eventually returned to haunt Cohen down that left hand Colombian flank. There’s also an impressive forward burst by right-back Pérez some nine minutes from time, although he, too, can’t reach a team mate in the centre with his cross. On 86 minutes, another low Fajardo forward pass reaches Hernández, who fires over from 22 yards.
Through to the end
There’s nearly three minutes of time added on at the end of the second half. We’d seen in Sydney how the Israelis had not been afraid to take to the ground in the latter stages in order to waste a bit of time, although, to their credit, they’d not resorted to such tactics here. Granted, tireless midfielder Davidi had gone down inside his own area with three minutes remaining, and though he’d obviously continue through to full time once back up on his feet after some treatment from the physio, it could well have been a genuine knock. Davidi had put such an effort in to stifle the threat of Valderrama.
Colombia’s crossing in the second half had not been up to desired standards. They have further chances to take aim from the right hand side through Fajardo and Usuriaga in injury time, but both efforts end up well behind Ginzburg’s goal. The solitary late shot on target had come when willing centre-back Escobar had moved forward and played a one-two with Fajardo, to fire one in from 23-24 yards with his weaker right foot. Ginzburg catches to his right with few problems.
And that is it. On 92,54, the near faultless Vautrot blows his whistle one final time, and the game is up. Now it is all left to 90 minutes in Tel Aviv to decide which from this pair will make it through to Italia ’90. We again wish to underline the fine sportsmanship which had been on display throughout, and towards the end, after a constant tête-à-tête, Iguarán and Alon are seen in what appears to be a amicable conversation.
After a modest opening to the game, the home side settle and play some fine, pacy football. They engage their illustrious central midfielders plenty, and make use of Hernández down the left hand side to create confusion in the visitors’ defensive line. Despite all their possession and dominance, though, the hosts can not open up a deep-lying opponent, which has Alon mark Iguarán tightly through the centre, and where the travelling pair of defensive midfielders tirelessly track the motions of Valderrama and Redín. The latter’s 25 yard effort tipped over the bar by the impressive Ginzburg 20 minutes in is the best effort of the half. Israel have hardly ventured across the halfway line.
Colombia change their formation around during the interval, and reappear in a 4-3-3. They make plenty use of substitute Usuriaga down the right, and the overloaded Amar must be assisted defensively by libero Barda, who covers well behind the left-back. Fajardo is pushed into a more advanced role, and plays a number of little forward balls, of which one is converted by the substitute on 74 minutes. While they’d not quite managed to maintain the kind of pace which they’d held for in excess of 25 minutes during the first half, Colombia were always in charge. They found the stubborn resistance of Israel very frustrating.
While the hosts would’ve wanted another goal before their cross-continent haul in two weeks’ time, they must still be content that they’d avoided conceding, even though that had never even been in question the way the game developed. The Israelis, too, would’ve been somewhat satisfied with the outcome, as they must have had sufficient belief in themselves to think that they could turn this deficit around on home soil.
1 Higuita 6.9
not a single real save to make. Impressive burst towards the centre-circle second half, and swept in his trademark style on a couple of occasions. Called upon to punch once (first half)
2 Escobar 7.1
again showed his composure and maturity: so cool in the few situations where he was surrounded. Rarely had to challenge thanks to his partner. Chose the right time to come forward on a few occasions
4 Wilson Pérez 7.2
spent some amount of time coming forward in the first half, but inexplicably fired in some wild shots from distance. Tested Ginzburg’s mettle from a first-half free-kick. Defensively not challenged by Rosenthal like could’ve been expected beforehand
5 Villa 7.0
lent Hernández some first half support, but his attacking contribution was not highly significant. Few problems in handling Ohana, and also received plenty of assistance in keeping this particular threat quiet, predominantly from Álvarez
10 Redín 6.9
has not had an entirely convincing qualification, and didn’t always manage to keep the attacking tempo up, but at least demonstrated his capacity on a couple of occasions during the half which he played. Close to scoring from that first half shot
(7 Usuriaga 7.4
again came on and created havoc against the opposition with those mazy runs along the right. His crosses were rarely precise, but to Amar he was more than a match with his pace and his impressive physique. Ran through from Fajardo’s pass to score the all important goal)
11 Hernández 7.3
the wide left forward again stuck to his flank and was frequently used during a first half in which he asked plenty of questions from his full-back. Alas, his crossing didn’t quite match his endeavour. Less effective second half, but remained a player whom Israel needed to look out for. Goalbound shot blocked early final 45 mins
12 Valderrama 7.1
does not always seem interested when there’s scrapping in the centre of the park, though he was frequently involved in little triangles, and coexisted well with Fajardo. Still drifted out of the game in spells, and more was probably expected of him, even if his delicate touches were on display. Closely monitored by the opposition
14 Álvarez 7.0
his late first half caution seemed more an accumulation of free-kicks than anything nasty. Patrolled the rear of the midfield, and acted as cover whenever there was a possible threat against the full-backs. Allowed others to be creative
15 Perea 7.1
won in the air on the few occasions when the ball came airborn, and also showed his strength in battle on the floor. Steady positioning, and wasn’t lured into the channels. Stayed back except for a few corners
16 Iguarán 6.3
enjoyed no luck whatsoever in the battles with Alon. Had a first half header off target, and was played through second half, only to be thwarted by the ‘keeper. Should perhaps have tried to drag his marker wide to create space for the attacking midfielders
17 Fajardo 7.7
after his stunning second half performance last time out, he got to start this time, and again he was the key component in breaking the opposition down. Combined well with Valderrama, played neat little forward balls, took players on, and just used his vision to perfection. Sensational assist for the goal
1 Ginzburg 7.5
oozes confidence, and appears so important to the defenders ahead of him. Terrific first half save from Redín, and commanded his area well. On hand to gather crosses from both flanks, both halves
2 Cohen II 6.7
found Hernández difficult to live with for spells in the first half, when he was also a tad fortunate not to concede a penalty against Iguarán, but would adjust, and improved his positioning after the break. None of his forward ventures on display here
3 Amar 6.6
whilst unworked down his side first half, he had a different second half threat, when he struggled with the lanky Usuriaga. Been a model of consistency throughout the qualification, but met his match in the man who got the only goal
4 Klinger 6.7
difficult conditions in which to excel, and wasn’t quite as prominent as his defensive midfield partner, although he played his role in keeping Valderrama/Redín company first half. Well positioned a few times to clear crosses from both sides. Professional foul on Higuita for his booking
5 Barda 7.0
with Israel sitting so deep, Barda didn’t have a vast area behind the defence to patrol, but whenever he was called upon to assist his full-backs, he delivered. Avoided exposure after his early booking
6 Alon 7.4
again showed how much he relishes a marking job on a centre-forward. Nullified entirely the threat from Iguarán. Rarely put a foot wrong in another mighty performance
7 Sinai 6.5
while he possesses undoubted quality on the ball, this game picture rather favoured players with workrate. A bit of a luxury player, but rarely got to use his fine left foot for little forward passes on this occasion. Attempted lob in first half injury time their solitary effort on target
8 Davidi 7.1
vital job in his holding midfield role, where he came up against such quality. Ran his socks off, and managed to come close enough to Valderrama to often keep him quiet. Looked to suffer from cramp late on, but persevered
9 Tikva 6.6
tried a few deft forward passes during the opening period, with not so much success. Not afraid to hold on to the ball in tight situations, but needed to do a lot of defensive cover work. Off with a possible knock
(14 Pizanti 6.6
brought on in a surprise right-sided midfield role, and brought plenty of legs. Tried to stir things up early after his arrival, but would ultimately need to focus his work inside his own half)
10 Ohana 6.2
ran offside a couple of times first half, and could not pose a threat with his trickery and industry this time. Anonymous until he was substituted
(15 Levin –
cameo in a more central position than his predecessor, but had little effect on the proceedings as Israel remained defensive throughout)
11 Rosenthal 6.5
the opposition were aware of his pace, which he did not get the chance to take advantage of, and could not pose a threat. Added workrate to his performance, which helped the midfield out, especially after the break