It was crunch time in Tel Aviv as Colombia had arrived from across the Atlantic Ocean in order to protect their slender lead from the first meeting. 15 days earlier, the South Americans had won 1-0 in Barranquilla.
With a place in next year’s World Cup directly at stake, this was a match of an unprecedented scale for both teams. Would home advantage come into play for the Israelis? Colombia had only taken a point from their two group stage away fixtures, while Israel had gained a win and a draw in their group stage home set of fixtures. The hosts would need to draw strength from the capacity crowd in order to break down the Colombian defence.
The only outcome which would bring about extra time, was obviously a 1-0 home win. Should that scoreline be the case after 120 minutes, then penalties would be needed to separate the teams. Any other score would see the game decided within regulation time.
Israel’s two managers, Itzhak Schneor and Ya’acov Grundman, had seemed to use a common thread through their qualification line-ups to date. While they had not been shy to utilise various formations, at least eight or nine of their starters had been regulars since the opening day win at home to New Zealand as far back as in early March. For one reason or another, one shirt number had appeared tricky to fill: The #5 jersey. In five qualifiers, four different player had featured, either at left-back or in the heart of their defence. Only Shlomo Iluz had worn it twice, and he was not even in the squad on this occasion.
While it had been difficult to retrieve information about Israel’s entire matchday squads of 16 players, i.e. the identity of their unused substitutes, in their first three group stage qualifiers, we are at least able to compare with the group of players which had been available in Barranquilla a fortnight earlier. There had been just a single change in the matchday squad since then, with rugged centre-half Shlomo Iluz dropping out, and with a player whom we’ve not come across earlier in the qualification entering: Ofir Shmueli. The latter was yet uncapped, and as a 23 year old he hailed from Beitar Jerusalem.
A number of the Israeli players had switched clubs during the summer: No less than six of those in today’s squad were now representatives with another employer. They were goalkeeper Bonni Ginzburg (who had moved abroad to feature with Glasgow Rangers in Scotland), defenders Avi Cohen II (not to be confused with the senior Avi Cohen, who had previously played in both England and Scotland) and Yehuda Amar, while the same was the case with captain Moshe Sinai, who had been fairly displeased with the situation at his previous club Hapoel Tel Aviv. He remained in the same city, only now appeared for Bnei Yehuda. Finally, striker Nir Levin had gone and joined the Israeli contingent in the Belgian league, where now no less than four of them were ingredients: Eli Ohana, Ronny Rosenthal, Shalom Tikva, and Levin now with Gent. They were all in today’s squad. In addition, it should be noted that left-sided defender David Pizanti had moved back home from his stint in the English capital with QPR. Pizanti now represented Maccabi Netanya.
In Colombia, Israel had not been able to draw effectively on one of their main assets: The speed with which they were capable of breaking forward. Now, on home soil, it would be expected from them that they boss the proceedings to a greater extent, and so do they have it in them to break down a visiting team bent on holding on to their marginal lead?
Manager Francisco Maturana, who had enjoyed recent success both domestically and on the South American continent with Medellín club side Atlético Nacional, whom he was also in charge of, appeared to have quite a clear idea of which players he wanted to make use of in a starting eleven. Or at least to a large extent. There might be a couple of positions which are still up for grabs leading up to this crucial fixture. In the recently held CONMEBOL section of the World Cup qualification, nine players had started at least three of their four matches.
With the expectancy that comes with a major international star like Carlos Valderrama, it is not totally unreasonable to suggest that the France based midfield playmaker had not enjoyed a particularly fruitful qualification campaign. According to our website, he had accumulated the lowest average rating among the ten players who had been a feature for at least three matches. Sure, he’d shown glimpses of his capacity, with some deft touches and fine passes, but altogether he’d failed to spark. How could Maturana get the best out of him? Was the attacking midfield pair of Valderrama and Redín the boss’ best option? Considering how impressive Luis Fajardo had been when he’d got the opportunity, perhaps Maturana’s selection remained undecided until very late.
There were three changes from the 16 man strong matchday squad from last time out. Absent on this occasion were defenders Luis Carlos Perea and León Villa, as well as unused substitute Juan Jairo Galeano, a forward. In particular Perea’s absence seemed a blow. The colossal centre-back was young libero Andrés Escobar’s partner at club level, and combined, they had looked a class act. Could Maturana cope with his absence? As for left-sided defender Villa, the interesting thing was that he’d played in all three home qualifiers, leaving for Carlos Hoyos to feature in the away fixtures. With no Villa available today, and with Hoyos returning to the squad, this pattern looked set to continue.
Colombia had been utilising a 4-2-2-2 formation throughout, although there had been some tweaks to their midfield latterly, with just a single holding player appearing from start in the home leg against the Israelis. With José Ricardo Pérez returning to the squad, and considering the size of this task ahead, one would naturally think that they’d return to a pair again at the base of their midfield. Central defender Wilmer Cabrera also was picked this time around, for only the second time since the start of the qualification.
Leading scorer was 32 year old Arnoldo Iguarán, who had been effectively tamed by Israel’s tall man-marking defender Nir Alon in the first leg in Barranquilla. Having scored four goals from four group stage outings, he probably remained the player they’d first and foremost look to for goals. Would there be a starting berth for Albeiro Usuriaga, though? The lanky, right-sided forward had been introduced for the start of the second half two weeks earlier, and had notched the tie’s only goal.
Brought in from Mexico were referee Edgardo Codesal (38) and linesmen Arturo Brizio Carter (33) and Alfredo Gasso Pérez (?).
Codesal had run the rule over a single qualifier for the 1986 World Cup, namely the second round clash between Canada and Guatemala (2-1) in the CONCACAF zone, and then been tasked with a solitary appearance during the 1988 Olympic Games football tournament in South Korea, where he’d overseen the 2-2 group stage draw between Tunisia and Sweden. He had been in charge of two fixtures in the current World Cup qualification: CONCACAF final round match-ups Trinidad and Tobago v Costa Rica (1-1) and El Salvador v USA (0-1). To be tasked with an assignment like this clash in Tel Aviv, it went without saying that FIFA had high thoughts of señor Codesal.
The only ever previous encounter between this pair of nations had been the meeting in Barranquilla 15 days earlier.
The Ramat Gan National Stadium had been packed for both of Israel’s group stage home fixtures, with 45,000 surrounding the field of play. Erected in 1951, it was 38 years old by now, and maintained its status as the country’s largest stadium. It was situated in the Ramat Gan area of Metropolitan Tel Aviv, hence the name.
|1 Bonni Ginzburg||24||Glasgow Rangers|
|2 Avi Cohen II||27||Maccabi Tel Aviv|
|3 Yehuda Amar||25||Hapoel Ramat Gan|
|4 Nir Klinger||23||Maccabi Haifa|
|5 Ofir Shmueli||31′, sub h-t||23||Beitar Jerusalem|
|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 Nir Levin||sub 51′||27||Gent|
|10 Shalom Tikva||24||Standard Liège|
|11 Ronny Rosenthal||26||Standard Liège|
|14 Eli Ohana||on 51′||25||Mechelen|
|16 David Pizanti||on h-t||27||Maccabi Netanya|
|x Yossi Mizrahi||36||Shimshon Tel Aviv|
|x Eitan Aharoni||26||Hapoel Kfar Saba|
|x Nissim Barda||33||Shimshon Tel Aviv|
|1 René Higuita||23||Atlético Nacional|
|2 Andrés Escobar||22||Atlético Nacional|
|3 Alexis Mendoza||27||Atlético Junior|
|4 Wilson Pérez||22||Atlético Junior|
|5 Carlos Hoyos||27||Atlético Junior|
|6 José Ricardo Pérez||26||Atlético Nacional|
|10 Bernardo Redín||sub h-t||26||Deportivo Cali|
|12 Carlos Valderrama (c)||28||Montpellier|
|14 Leonel Álvarez||sub 70′||24||Atlético Nacional|
|16 Arnoldo Iguarán||17′||32||Millonarios|
|17 Luis Fajardo||26||Atlético Nacional|
|7 Albeiro Usuriaga||on h-t||23||Atlético Nacional|
|8 Gabriel Gómez||on 70′||29||Independiente Medellín|
|11 Rubén Darío Hernández||24||Millonarios|
|13 Wilmer Cabrera||22||Santa Fe|
|19 Eduardo Niño||22||Santa Fe|
The level of anticipation for this fixture was high, not just among those who were fortunate enough to be present, but also among those of us who, more than 30 years later, were in attendance via the TV screens. After Colombia’s marginal win on home soil, they had arrived in Israel as bent on securing their passage through to next year’s global event in Italy as the hosts were on turning the deficit around. Something would have to give.
The Mexican officials were hoping to emulate the fine performances of the French trio which had been on display in Barranquilla a fortnight earlier. They were seen together on-pitch at the same time as the two starting elevens were making their final preparations. It is hardly necessary to point out the sound levels around the time which the game was meant to kick-off, as they were naturally rocketing. No game in the modern day footballing history of these two nations had ever come close to the size of this one.
We had been given the two respective starting line-ups on-screen in the few minutes which were preceeding the actual kick-off, something which we’ll be returning to shortly. Bringing the game to life was the task of Israel’s captain Moshe Sinai and their surprise striker’s inclusion Nir Levin. Israel were attacking towards the left as the cameras were angled. The final 90 minutes of qualification action for this pair of contestants was finally under way.
It takes a mere 15 seconds for someone to end up in a heap on the ground, as Colombia’s combative midfielder Leonel Álvarez slides into Ronny Rosenthal, with the latter attempting to gather some momentum along the left hand channel. Within the opening minute, Álvarez had again come into focus, as he seemed to have jumped too early, resulting in him heading the ball across his own byline to concede an Israel left wing corner.
The home side had appeared to start like a whirlwind, although their promise inside the first minute, which had also included a free-kick from Sinai into the area, would very soon wane. It would have been in the hosts’ interest to keep the visiting Colombians on their back feet, but no one who saw the first encounter between the two would be in disbelief that the red and blue clad away side would grasp control of the proceedings.
Colombia’s personnel changes
In the away ranks, playing without big centre-back Luis Carlos Perea was bound to be a major miss, though filling in was 27 year old Alexis Mendoza. While he did perhaps not quite boast Perea’s impressive frame, he still looked like someone who could grapple with success against any opponent on this occasion. Mendoza had slotted into that right-sided centre-back position, working alongside the young, yet highly impressive, Andrés Escobar, who had performed throughout the qualification as someone considerably more senior.
Also back in the starting select was left-back Carlos Hoyos, who had played in both their group stage away ties. While León Villa, who had featured in that position for all three of their home fixtures, had perhaps looked a more composed, less erratic figure, Hoyos was not without certain qualities.
A third player coming into the Colombian team this afternoon was midfielder José Ricardo Pérez. While he’d begun the qualification group stage in impressive manner, his influence had not lasted, and this was ‘only’ his fourth start from six. Pérez was again appearing as one of two holding men, operating to Álvarez’ left. The pair of them had successfully negotiated similar duties earlier, so there was no reason to think that Pérez’ return would weaken the side in any way. Besides, it was also about tactics, as Maturana and his team had clearly wanted to bolster the rear end of their midfield in what was a very tricky away fixture. Pérez’ inclusion made perfect sense. He was strong in possession, and knew enough to take the sting out of a game.
With three coming in, three had obviously dropped out since the home leg, and in addition to Perea and Villa, this also applied to left-sided forward Rubén Darío Hernández. Whilst his virtuous-like appearance down that flank often provided a fine outlet for his team mates to search for, it had perhaps seemed a luxury in a fixture like this to have him included. He’d been sacrificed for more defensive alternatives, with Pérez slotting in at the base of the midfield.
The Colombian midfield was probably key to them continuing in much the same vein as during the home leg, as their players were very well capable of holding on to the ball and interacting, letting it run between the members of the team, drawing exhaust from the opposition. If they could maintain this level of security here in Tel Aviv, they were probably going to be alright come the final whistle.
With Álvarez and Pérez working at the back of their midfield, offering their central defence, or indeed their defence as a whole, solid protection, the visitors had the fine pair of Bernardo Redín and skipper Carlos Valderrama in somewhat more advanced capacity. This midfield quartet appeared to be Maturana’s favoured one, although thanks to Luis Fajardo’s performances in the qualification when given the chance, that latter player had definitely come into contention for a starting role. While Maturana had seemed reluctant to ditch either of Redín or Valderrama, despite the fact that neither had impressed to the peak of their capacity since the start of the qualification, he had at least done the seemingly wise to also include Fajardo from kick-off this time around. The 26 year old Atlético Nacional ace (one of five starters from the Medellín club) had been thrust into a role just ahead of the advanced midfield pair, but also just in behind lone striker Arnoldo Iguarán. They were quite narrow coming forward, but could once again be looking for either full-back to contribute with width. If they felt bold enough.
Colombia do show their superiority in possession, and the first ten minutes, that opening one apart, they looked confident and strong. The idea was clearly to let the home side’s players chase, and as long as the Israelis could not get hold of the ball, they would at least not get that goal which they were in need of to force at least extra time.
From an Israeli perspective
The home side were perhaps feeling the expectations getting to them, as they did not really find any early rhythm to back up that adrenaline-filled opening minute. They conceded a couple of corners from either side, although the Colombians had not brought height forward to duly worry them.
It must have been a major disappointment not to have ace forward Eli Ohana represented in the starting line-up. He had come off late in the away leg after a poor showing, and there were doubts about his fitness. It had been Nir Levin, the latest Israeli export to Belgium, replacing Ohana in Barranquilla, and now, Levin had even been given starting responsibility alongside the effervescent Rosenthal. Levin did appear to have greater limitations to his game than the often unpredictable Ohana, who also was deceptively strong in the air for a man of relatively modest size. And in these early passages of play, there was also no evidence that he had a similar level of understanding with his strike partner to that of Ohana.
With Ofir Shmueli coming in for his debut (!) at left-back, it meant a return to the heart of the defence for the steady Yehuda Amar. The latter had probably given his best role interpretations as libero, although he’d also filled in capably at left-back. Now, he was back behind man-marker Nir Alon in the centre, something which seemed to suit him just fine. Amar was strong in his positioning, read the game well, and was sweeping well behind the rest of his defence. He had been one of their better and most consistent players throughout the qualification. As for the debutant, Shmueli was of big size, and perhaps had they expected Usuriaga to start along the right for the Colombians. He did not seem as comfortable coming forward as, for example, David Pizanti had done. In a must-win game, it had seemed a little peculiar to include a full-back who was less impressive in the attacking aspects of the game.
Israel’s midfield quartet was again the same, with Nir Klinger and Efraim Davidi working tirelessly behind the more advanced pair of captain Sinai and the elegant Shalom Tikva. One could claim that the former pair were the heartbeat of the side, as their harrying and chasing of the opposition was a key element in their battle for midfield territory. Davidi had often succeeded in taking Valderrama out of the game in Colombia. Neither stood out in possession, which they would leave for Sinai and Tikva to handle. Sinai enjoyed to switch play from left to right through the means of his strong and precise left foot, while Tikva was more the kind of player who enjoyed to either advance ball at feet, gathering pace through momentum, or who would look for a run ahead of him and try and thread the ball through.
While the home side find little attacking fluency, as their forward play appears to be more based on individual effort and coincidence rather than structured and rehearsed play, the visiting Colombian team, true to their colours, engage in little triangles and involve plenty of players when they attempt to gain yards. While they’ve yet to test the Israeli rearguard’s tempo, they are still asking questions from the hosts with their approach, as they often find pockets of space along the left hand side, where Hoyos from time to time lends his support to both Valderrama and Fajardo. The latter pair have the inginuity to cause havoc through their sublime skill and vision alone.
Israel had proved in Australia that a game picture where they’re not seeing an awful lot of the ball can suit them, although that possessional disadvantage had not served them any favours in South America two weeks earlier. Too often, they waste forward balls, and neither of Sinai or Tikva are brought into play sufficiently, or at least they do not make use of the ball wisely enough. Defending has so far been a very light exercise for the visitors.
With both the game and indeed the tie still poised through the 0-0 scoreline, there’s a first booking of the afternoon on 17 minutes, as Colombia’s lone striker Iguarán decides to track back with Shmueli making forward advance from deep inside his own half. The Israel left-back had barely made it past the halfway line before his haul came to an abrupt end through the means of a ‘striker’s tackle’. Iguarán clipped the defender from behind, having failed to wrestle him off the ball only a sequence before. The booking was deserved. Still, the spirit of the game so far had been impeccable, with both teams acquitting themselves with decorum.
Less than two minutes after the caution, there’s a momentous opportunity for the home side to bring balance to the tie. There’s some impressive work again down that left hand side by Rosenthal, who evades right-back Pérez’ challenge, before he accelerates past stopper Mendoza, who had come out into the channel to try and prevent the forward from getting the ball into the box. Rosenthal succeeded, though, and after Levin’s soft flick-on with his head, Tikva arrived just around the penalty spot to have a major opportunity to swing it at goal. The only problem is he failed to direct the ball goalwards. Levin might have disturbed Tikva, and arriving first time on the ball, the attacking midfielder misfired badly, seeing the ball end up several yards to the left of Higuita’s goal frame. He ought to have done much better.
The hosts are at it again, buoyed by that Tikva chance, as the first half is about to approach its halfway stage. They had let the visitors work themselves into Israeli territory before nicking the ball back and mounting an attack of their own. Arriving near the penalty area, a smart run into the area by libero Amar was spotted by Levin, who played a pass in his direction. Amar arrived to the ball around the same time as Higuita, who got a toe to it to poke it away, and clattering into the libero at the same time. This resulted in Amar ending up in a heap on the floor, though play continued, and ultimately the ball was recycled for Levin, who was able to have a pop at goal from 20 yards, only to see Higuita, way off his line, get a palm to it and divert it away for a right wing corner. Another chance wasted for the hosts.
Hosts with their tails up
Having raised their game, the hosts had been able to press the Colombians out of their stride, at least momentarily. Those two reasonable goalscoring opportunities had further proved to the Israelis that they were still in with every chance of drawing level, and the visitors didn’t appear so confident at this point.
The home side’s players do not shirk from challenges, and there’s another evidence when Álvarez has played a difficult back pass from outside the area to put his goalkeeper in trouble. Levin had given chase to the lobbed pass back from the midfielder, and with Higuita having to make a dash towards the right to get to the ball, he receives a big kick from the striker as Levin arrives almost simultaneously. No booking, though, as it had been more an accidental clash than anything pre-meditated.
There’s a second yellow card of the afternoon on 31 minutes, when debutant defender Shmueli has given away a free-kick in the centre-circle, having chased Fajardo’s heels. However, the yellow does not appear to be given for the foul; it could rather be for the fact that Shmueli looked to have kicked the ball away upon the whistle. Nevertheless, he had now joined Iguarán in the referee’s little black book.
Some Colombia observations
What is something of a surprise to witness, particularly in the wake of his recent exploits at such high level, is how Colombia’s Fajardo on this occasion does not quite manage to replicate the form which he’d previously shown. While his ability to find little pockets of space in advanced positions remains intact, and by all means, he does communicate well with Valderrama, with the ball neatly being interpassed between the pair, Fajardo can’t quite reach his team mates with his little balls in the forward direction. Fajardo’s vision and execution of passes had been a joy to behold during his earlier Italia ’90 qualification performances, though here in Tel Aviv, he struggles for accuracy in his passing game.
There’s also enough evidence of intershifting of positions among some of the Colombians to deduce that this is no fluke; it is something likely to have been encouraged by the management. This certainly applies to said pair Fajardo and Valderrama, with the latter operating in a fairly free role, and often moving quite far ahead and into advanced positions. He had often been the aim for Fajardo, and there was nothing wrong with the understanding between them.
Iguarán was more or less left chasing shadows. The spring-heeled forward had found Nir Alon a very difficult adversary during the first leg in Latin America, and now again, he is unable to shake off the tall Israel defender. Iguarán does attempt a couple of runs into the channels in order to get away from Alon, who predominantly appears interested in tracking his movements through the centre. So far, though, the 32 year old Millonarios striker enjoys little luck from whomever it is he ends up in combat with. The strong Cohen also takes no prisoners.
Through to half time
Little is happening in terms of goalmouth action towards the latter first half stages, though it is not as if the game’s bereft of any nerve or tension. The excitement of what is so far a finely tuned stalemate covers the proceedings like a gigantic cloth. The hosts can be fairly pleased with their first half endeavours, although they have seen the visitors enjoy the majority of the possession. This could probably have been expected beforehand.
When the Colombian back four were collected, the Israelis would at times attempt the long ball up from the back, first and foremost in the direction of Levin. However, this was not a particularly fruitful move, as Escobar and Hoyos would combine well along their defensive left hand channel in challenging the home striker. Also, with the two Israeli strikers operating so far apart, Rosenthal electing wide areas along the left, Levin right-sided channels, and with not enough mobility from Sinai, the hosts can’t put Colombia under much sustained pressure. The opportunities which the home side have arrived at, have usually come from sporadic attacks, or indeed from Rosenthal’s thrifty probings down the left.
While Tikva had undoubtedly had the best chance to open the score so far, there’s almost a replica down the other end a minute from the end of first half regulation time, when Iguarán has again looked to get away from Alon, taking up a position towards the left. He had been played in by Valderrama, and crossed the ball into the centre. Redín, who had had a relatively modest half, had made a surging run into the box, and he connected first time, albeit off balance, and so saw his effort skew off his foot, with the ball drifting several yards wide to the left of goal. It had demanded a greater effort to connect cleanly than with Tikva’s chance earlier, and Redín wasn’t up to the task.
With some late first half treatment going out to Israeli left-back and debutant Shmueli, there’s no less than three and a half minute of time added on before the referee can eventually signal for the half-time break. Shmueli had accidentally caught team mate Alon’s knee in his back, as he’d attempted to stop Iguarán in his track around the centre-circle. The pair of home defenders had collided, leaving the wide man worse for wear. While he was brought back on to his feet, he clearly looked in agony upon resumption. The medical staff are seen gesturing for his substitution, though with only a matter of seconds remaining of the opening period, Shmueli does remain on the pitch until the whistle.
A no-score half was probably just about right. With everything still to play for after the break, the capacity crowd could take a breather to reload their energy for the final 45 minutes.
After a tense opening 45 minutes, both teams returned back on to the pitch for the final phase of their respective World Cup qualification campaigns. While Colombia were obviously very content with the current scoreline, the hosts were in desperate need of a goal to at least force extra time.
There were substitutions having been made at both ends for the start of the second half. For the hosts, theirs had been forced upon them, as Shmueli had been in some discomfort in first half injury time after his unfortunate colission with team mate Alon. While he had managed to hobble around for the remaining seconds before the break, he had been replaced by David Pizanti for the final stage. Shmueli had been quite defensive in his approach, while Pizanti was well known for his attacking ability down the left hand flank. Had the substitute perhaps not seemed a better option from the first moment anyway? In light of this, that replacement did not appear to weaken the Israelis, though it had perhaps been unfortunate that they’d already needed to make one from their allowed total of two substitutions.
The Colombians had successfully introduced fast winger Albeiro Usuriaga for midfielder Redín at the break during the home leg, as the tall right-sided player had slotted home the only goal of the tie so far back in Barranquilla. Once again the management team had made the exact same substitution: Leaving Redín behind in the Tel Aviv dressing room, and replacing him with a much more attack-minded player. They clearly felt they could be so bold, even if the current scoreline suited them perfectly. Were they planning to sit deeper and try to utilise Usuriaga’s pace in counter-attacking the hosts?
It was the visitors who would get the ball rolling for the second half, with skipper Valderrama and fellow attacking midfielder Fajardo seeing to kick-off.
Hosts return with intent
Israel, like they had done in the first half, seize immediate control after the restart. They clearly have a more direct style of approach than the visitors, using fewer touches in getting the ball forward. Having been second best at times during the opening half, they would need to summon on all their courage and bravery in order to get that goal which would prove so elusive.
Pizanti had been brought on along the left hand side in defence, and he would again, like in Barranquilla, come up against Usuriaga, who had come on as the right-sided attacker for the visitors. Pizanti was certainly no stranger to venturing ahead, and he would wish to add a new attacking dimension to their width down the left, where he was played in by Sinai as early as the third minute after coming on. On that particular occasion, though, his cross had been too near Higuita, who had collected easily.
Striker Levin had grafted, sure, but he had not really proved very successful so far, coming up against tough defenders in Escobar and Mendoza. As early as the sixth minute after the restart, the Israeli management had seen enough to realize that he was probably not going to make any difference, and so they elected to replace him by star forward Eli Ohana, who probably wasn’t entirely fit, but who would hopefully contribute to giving the entire team a lift just through his presence. We see him clutch the backside of his right thigh just prior to entering the pitch. The man who notched four goals for Mechelen on their way to the 1987/88 season’s Cup Winners’ Cup title now had 39 minutes to help conjure up something extraordinary.
Would you believe: Only 80 seconds after Ohana’s introduction, the Israelis arrive at their greatest goalscoring opportunity yet. They waste no time in shifting the ball out towards the right hand side in midfield following a free-kick deep inside their own half of the pitch, and it is Tikva who looks up and spots a terrific run by one of the two holding midfielders. Klinger it is who has made advance down the right, and upon receiving a fine pass from Tikva, he goes on to produce a cross into the centre of the area, where Rosenthal has moved away from the centre-backs. Klinger’s cross is a perfect one, and the striker connects first time with the inside of his left foot. However, Higuita has come off his line to narrow the angle, and it proves impossible for Rosenthal to guide the ball either side of the ‘keeper, who concedes a rebound, but only as far as to Escobar, who in turn pokes it back to his number 1. Was that the opportunity now?
Israel’s more direct style has the crowd going every time they cut off a Colombian sideway pass, as they immediately look ahead. Another example comes ten minutes into the second half, when a careless pass from Álvarez in the direction of Wilson Pérez sees Rosenthal nip in and take the ball away. He embarks on another powerful run down the left hand channel, until he is unceremoniously brought to the floor by Mendoza’s intervention. It was the task of the right-sided among the two Colombia stoppers to enter this territory when Rosenthal was making headway. The subsequent free-kick by Sinai into the area was cleared, but not properly, and on 20 yards, Tikva picked up the pieces and smashed a left-footed effort just wide to the left of goal. Would Higuita have got to it had it gone inside the post? Difficult to tell. Fact is that Israel were beginning to produce chances. Had Colombia’s attacking ideas by introducing a forward for a midfielder at the break backfired?
Colombia’s second half midfield
Redín had been secure in possession during the first half, although he had at times looked sluggish, and this could’ve been one of the reasons why he had been replaced. The idea was seemingly to bring the more mobile Fajardo back into a central midfield position, even if that meant they would lose some physical presence. The visitors must have anticipated how the Israelis would have a proper go in the second half, and so they were relying on getting their opportunities on the counter. Usuriaga through his pace could hopefully benefit from the cleverness of Fajardo and Valderrama, who both had the ability to play him in down the right. So far, though, it hadn’t happened.
In fact, the early second half signs are that Colombia no longer have the same grip about the midfield areas without Redín. The two players at the rear of their engine room, Álvarez and Ricardo Pérez, were both sitting quite deep, and in particular the latter didn’t have that rapid feet movement to put pressure on an opponent quickly enough; he was better at covering space when out of possession. Having surrendered two fine opportunities to the hosts now, the Colombians needed to get their act together.
While the evolving second half is not an all-out wave of Israeli attacks, it is evident that the hosts are improved in comparison to the first half. They are able to hold on to the ball for sustained periods, and they are having the opponents chasing them, rather than the other way around, which had been the case for much of the first half. Energetic midfielder Davidi was filling in whenever Pizanti came galopping forward from his left-back position, and Tikva was a busy man across to the right. He’d picked up a flicked header by Ohana to the right inside the area on 59 minutes, but rather than squared it towards the centre, the Belgium based midfielder had struck it into the side-netting to the fury of some of his team mates.
Fajardo shot and Pérez ‘injury’
The Colombians arrive at a decent opportunity themselves on 57 minutes, when Valderrama enjoys some possession high up the pitch, to the left outside the area. In spotting Fajardo well to his right, he plays his fellow attacking midfielder a fine pass, upon which the Colombia #17 takes the ball on the bounce with his left foot, only to see his 25 yard effort sail half a yard over Ginzburg’s crossbar. It had rolled off his leg, and so it had dipped alarmingly, with the ‘keeper unable to get anywhere near it had it gone under the bar. A minute later, there’s even a shot on target, although Wilson Pérez’ free-kick from 35 yards rolls harmlessly through to the Israeli custodian.
There had been pure sportsmanship for the first hour, and only when Ricardo Pérez was tackled to the ground by Davidi inside the Colombian half of the pitch is there a break in play. While it didn’t seem to cause an awful lot of harm, the holding midfielder stayed down and needed to have the stretcher brought on. However, after a few seconds of treatment along the touchline, Pérez was soon again back on to his feet and ready to resume play. Referee Codesal had made sure that the stretcher carriers had lifted him off the field of play in swift manner.
Injury and substitution
Only a matter of minutes after Pérez nursing his injury, his holding midfield partner Álvarez goes to the ground after colliding with Pizanti. The impact had seemed to take its toll on the busy Colombia midfielder, and he lies on the floor for what must be the best part of a minute, with no attempts from anyone to kick the ball into touch to have him attended to. When there’s eventually a break in play, he can be seen to. He’d been clutching his right leg, and he had looked to be in some discomfort, and then taken to the sideline for medical assessment. However, knowing how the visitors benefitted from the current scoreline, and not least from disrupting the hosts’ fluency, one could never be sure that so was the case. Álvarez briefly returned on to the pitch before being substituted with 20 minutes left. A very identical player, even by appearance, was brought on in the shape of Gabriel Gómez, who had started their final two group stage matches.
Off the post
Right before the substitution, there’s an unfortunate involvement by Fajardo, albeit inadvertently, as Pizanti, who has moved in field, plays a pass which ricochets off the Colombian midfielder’s feet and into the path of the so far invisible Ohana, who could’ve gone through the centre had he had the acceleration to get away. He was clattered to the ground by Escobar as soon as the ball arrived to him, though, with a free-kick 28 yards out the outcome. Captain Sinai, always there or thereabouts when there was a set-piece situation inside the opposition’s half, struck it low with his left foot. It kissed the foot of the right hand post, seemingly taking a touch off Higuita’s arm on its way. No corner given, though, and again the visitors could draw a collective sigh of relief. The ‘keeper had seemed to have it covered, though.
Second half substitutes’ impact
Gómez on for Álvarez changes nothing for the hosts. The substitute slots directly into the role left vacant by his predecessor. With just over a quarter of an hour remaining in the tie, the Colombians are naturally very content with the scoreline, although they have not looked as collectively assured as they had during the first half. One could in fact say that they were a tad fortunate not to be behind.
As for Ohana, he did not seem to assert himself a great deal, rather leaving to others to give chase, but with his ability on the ball, he was always a potential threat to the visiting defence. He had seemed to take up more or less a permanent position through the centre in the last few minutes, rather letting Tikva, who had become increasingly attacking in his approach, have that right hand channel to himself. There had been a peculiar moment between the pair just to the right of the Colombian penalty area, when Israel had won a free-kick after Tikva had accidentally tripped his team mate. The referee had thought it was Escobar who had fouled him. Sinai had played the free-kick back for Tikva to have a go, although with his weaker left foot he couldn’t get any conviction behind it from 18 yards, and Higuita gathered very comfortably.
Israel looking sound
At the heart of the home side’s defence, Amar has again tidied up very well, while Alon has held a firm grip on Iguarán. Cohen along the right has perhaps not been that attacking, but he’s had Tikva ahead of him keeping width down the right, and the Israel number 10 has been quite busy. As for Klinger and Davidi, they’re not all that visible in open play, as they first and foremost give chase when the opposition’s in possession, although Klinger had given that early second half proof that he’s very capable of picking the right moment to come forward. Sinai, again, I think it is fair to say, hasn’t been too instrumental apart from at set-pieces, while Rosenthal has easily been the more industrious forward. He has really gone at Wilson Pérez from his wide left position. It happened again on 78 minutes, when he accepted a cross field ball from Amar, only to see Mendoza head his cross away for a left wing corner.
Somewhat uncomfortable visitors
The visitors see a much lower level of possession since the break, something which has not suited Valderrama all that much. While the Colombian captain had been quite prolific during the opening half, in particular through his coexistence in the left hand channel with Fajardo and also to an extent Hoyos, he’d not contributed much in the last 20 minutes or so. The same could also be said about Fajardo, although he did still keep trying, and on 80 minutes he’d got all the way to the byline, cutting into the area from that left hand channel position. Only an Amar clearance had prevented his pass from reaching Iguarán or Usuriaga. Fajardo, however, had not been so efficient through his short passing game on this occasion, seeing several of his attempted forward passes dealt with by the Israeli defence.
Away side strike the post
With about eight minutes left for play, the visitors have their biggest opportunity yet. It had in fact been the hosts’ defence which had presented Colombia with this chance to finally seal their passage through to the World Cup, as there would surely have been no coming back from a deficit so late on the night for the Israelis. Cohen had picked the ball up in the centre of the area, and then gone across towards the left, letting the ball just a tad far ahead. Cohen then thought Pizanti, who was in the vicinity, would pick up the pieces, although that was clearly not in the left-back’s mind at all, something which the lurking Usuriaga took advantage of. He seized on the ball, flew past Cohen, before placing a shot on to Ginzburg’s upright, half a yard above the ground. The ‘keeper had come out to face him, but couldn’t get to the shot. It had ricochetted back out into Amar’s chest, and the libero gave away a right wing corner. The goalscorer from the first leg had come so close yet again.
Through to full time
During the final few minutes, you are left with a feeling that the home side’s players no longer have strong belief that they’re still capable of getting their goal. They do ease off somewhat in the pressure when the Colombians are in possession, something which sees Valderrama thrive again to a greater extent. On the counter, Iguarán threads Usuriaga through the centre, although the second half substitute had just run off, so his skewed finish wide, off balance and from his weaker left foot, was immaterial anyway.
Iguarán, who had hardly had a sniff against Alon for 180 minutes, accepted a Fajardo pass near the right corner of the Israeli penalty area, and with his marker much more lenient, Iguarán was allowed to enter the box and fire in a shot with his left foot. It only missed Ginzburg’s goal frame diagonally by a yard. Had it crept into the top left corner, it would’ve been a stunning goal.
The Israelis were all about hitting it long by now, and they had sent Cohen forward to try and win any ball played up from the back. Why had Alon not come to join him? It was not as if they had much to lose anyway. Cohen did flick on one such ball, and with the clock having entered the 89th minute of game time, there was THE final chance for the light blue home side to draw level in the tie. Of all people, you’d have wanted the ball to fall kindly for Rosenthal inside the area, and it did. The striker, though, somewhat disorientated, proceeded to try and lob the ball over Higuita from a position some 12 yards out. He failed to get enough lift, and Higuita barely had to raise his arms to catch it. Finding the back of the net had been possible, but Rosenthal had failed to keep his cool.
58 seconds into time added on, something which had not seemed sufficient, considering Colombia had had two players off on the stretcher during the second half, the referee blew for full time. Colombia had secured what was a crucial draw, and they it was who progressed through to the World Cup in Italy. Israel, where manager Schneor had looked increasingly despondent on the bench as the final hour approached, were out.
The home side failed to build on some first minute promise, and were largely second best for the opening 45 minutes. That said, though, it had been they who had arrived at the two best opportunities, with Tikva and Levin failing to hit the target with shots. In particular Tikva’s chance had been big. The visitors were looking to take the pace out of the game, and were enjoying their midfield possession, without looking to penetrate.
During the interval, both sets of management teams had made changes. The hosts withdrew debutant full-back Shmueli for Pizanti due to injury, while a surprise introduction of forward Usuriaga for midfielder Redín in the away camp made you wonder just how daring the visitors wanted to be. While Redín had not stood out, he’d been part of a coherent and dominant midfield. To remove a player from the central areas and introduce a wide forward seemed bold in the circumstances.
Israel went on to have a better second half, although they could ultimately not force the goal which they needed. Rosenthal failed to convert from close range right after his customary strike partner Ohana had come off the bench, and later Tikva would again fire a blank, with Sinai kissing the outside of the upright from distance. When a final Rosenthal chance went begging a couple of minutes from time, it was of little importance that also Usuriaga had failed to take his chance with less than ten minutes on the clock. Colombia were through – Israel were out.
1 Ginzburg 6.8
was very rarely called upon, even during the first half, when the visitors had enjoyed the majority of the possession. On the backfoot for Fajardo’s second half effort, and beaten by Usuriaga for the latter’s shot against the post. Picked up a couple of harmless efforts and made sure to restart swiftly
2 Cohen II 6.9
uncompromising performance along the right. Didn’t push forward much in open play, but was brought forward to add height and physicality late on. A slip-up inside his own area almost saw him gift Usuriaga the winner
3 Amar 7.1
again his libero performance was highlighted through his delightful reading of the game, as he was called upon to cover for other defenders. Often made use of the long ball. Did not get the chance to display his aerial strength
4 Klinger 7.1
another workmanlike performance at the rear of their midfield, and showed his ability to pick a moment for coming forward when he provided Rosenthal with that chance
5 Shmueli 6.7
the debutant was a tad erratic on the ball, but through the use of his physique he often gave as good as he got in challenges. Saw yellow for kicking the ball away, and came off with injury
(16 Pizanti 6.9
came on for the second half and contributed with width all along the left. Usuriaga again proved a handful to him defensively, while he let Davidi cover for him when he ventured forward)
6 Alon 7.1
allowed Iguarán little until the dying stages. Terrific reach both along the deck and in the air. Very modest with the ball. Could (should) have been thrust forward towards the latter stages
7 Sinai 7.0
again, the skipper wasn’t the player you would see an awful lot in open play, but he did enjoy switching play whenever he could. Put in a few challenges, even, as his workrate appeared improved. Fine free-kick against the upright
8 Davidi 6.9
tireless in that holding role, and less interaction with Valderrama this time around. Effective in closing spaces, and wisely let others represent creativity
9 Levin 6.4
found next to no back space to run into, and seemed caught in two minds whether to stick through the centre or to make use of the channels. In the thick of the action during some first half goalmouth action, but ultimately of little threat
(14 Ohana 6.6
seemed to underline the hypothesis suggesting he wasn’t entirely fit, as he didn’t move with a whole lot of freedom. Would often seek central areas, and though his close control was impressive on a couple of occasions, he didn’t create much in terms of trouble other than drawing defenders’ attention)
10 Tikva 7.3
saw plenty of the ball, and had the craftmanship to make something of it. Close to scoring twice, and used the width to his advantage. Final delivery not always accurate
11 Rosenthal 7.6
often an enigma down that left hand side, and easily the biggest threat to the Colombian back line with his sheer pace and endeavour. Conjured up Tikva’s first half chance, and wasted two himself in the final 45
1 Higuita 7.0
flapped in the area on a couple of occasions, something which could’ve proved disastrous in the second half. Kept out Rosenthal’s point blank effort, and even got a hand to Sinai’s free-kick on to the post
2 Escobar 7.3
mature beyond his years in how he oozes composure and positional awareness. Strong in the challenges with Levin, and capable of resorting to ‘dirty’ if need be. Saved his keeper’s blushes on the goalline second half
3 Mendoza 7.2
resolute in the challenges, and despite this being his solitary appearance in the on-going qualification, he formed a tight central defensive unit with Escobar. Competent in the air, and covered for Wilson Pérez on more than one occasion
4 Wilson Pérez 6.6
unable to stop Rosenthal once the latter had ignited his thrusters. Offered a level of width coming forward, while he didn’t find accuracy with his set-pieces
5 Hoyos 6.7
also came forward to an extent, and provided an extra body along the left. Crossing not great. Defensively he was struggling whenever the lively Tikva came his way, and so was often in need of assistance from Escobar as the left-sided among the centre-halves
6 Ricardo Pérez 6.8
sat deep the entire game, clearly more comfortable in than out of possession. Composed, but failed to contain Tikva along his side defensively
10 Redín 6.9
would at times move into right-sided pockets, though his mobility wasn’t great. Held on to the ball in tight situations, and allowed Valderrama/Fajardo freedom. Sacrificed again during the break, after he’d connected with Iguarán’s cross late in the half
(7 Usuriaga 7.1
seemed a bold man to introduce after they’d largely been in control through possession in the first half. Remained out wide right as we know him, and his direct running again increased the threat level. Close to nicking it when striking the post on 82 minutes)
12 Valderrama 7.2
while a luxury player who only grafts when he sees fit, he seemed keen whenever they broke down the left hand channel first half, and he cooperated well with Fajardo, with both feeding off each other. Not always highly effective, but Colombia’s style of play is suited to his languidness
14 Álvarez 7.2
sets the bar with his super-early tackle on Rosenthal, and remains at that level for the 70 minutes which he’s on the pitch. A true battler, whose importance in the defensive collective is significant. Off with a knock to his right knee after a collision with Pizanti
(8 Gómez –
slotted effortlessly into the ‘Álvarez role’ in the remaining game time, and his combativeness and fresh legs were an asset to the visitors late on)
16 Iguarán 6.7
this game saw more of him in the channels than in either of Colombia’s five previous qualifiers; he needed to, in order to get away from Alon. Fine movement, but just had one effort to show for, which was when he came close to the spectacular in the final stages
17 Fajardo 7.0
showed again some of his delicate touches, but his little passes in the forward direction didn’t quite come off this time. Clearly thrives from collaborating with Valderrama. Less influental after dropping back after the break, though he had that effort rolling off his foot