The Israel national team were finding themselves in somewhat of an exodus ever since they had been expelled from the AFC in 1974. For the 1990 World Cup qualifiers, they would again have to compete in the OFC zone, like they had done in the previous World Cup campaign. For the same reason, Israel hadn’t been involved in much competitive international football lately, being restricted to friendlies. Their last competitive action had in fact been the 1986 World Cup qualifiers, which had been a tight affair with Oceanic powerhouses Australia and New Zealand.  

After Israel’s failed attempt at reaching the 1988 Olympic Games football tournament in South Korea, their Yugoslav head coach Miljenko Mihić was dismissed, and they brought in a pair of head coaches to tackle the 1990 World Cup qualification. Arriving prior to the October ’88 friendly at home to Malta were Itzhak Schneor and Ya’acov Grundman, formerly with Tel Aviv clubs Hapoel and Shimshon respectively. Read more…

World Cup appearances: 1970

Managers: Itzhak Schneor and Ya’akov Grundman


Israel received a bye in the second round, and so were automatically qualified for the second round.

Match 1
Ramat Gan National Stadium (Tel Aviv)

Rosenthal (7′)


New Zealand

With just a few highlights and no retrievable written information available, research for this tie is incredibly tricky. From what little footage there is to be found, it would appear as if Israel were dominant. They score the only goal of the game early, and then the visitors’ ‘keeper is needed to save the Kiwis’ blushes. Vital win for the Israelis to open their qualification campaign.

Line-up: Ginzburg – Cohen II, Amar, Alon, Pizanti – Davidi, Klinger, Sinai (c) – Ohana, Driks (Atar 61), Rosenthal.

Match 2
Ramat Gan National Stadium (Tel Aviv)

Ohana (67′ pen.)


Yankos (73′)

Adding a central defender to the team to counter-act the classy-looking Australia forward-line, Israel supremos Schneor and Grundman were ready to sacrifice attacking power in order to have a defensive line which could cope with the visitors. In a tense, physical battle, the Australians probably just shaded the first half, although the hosts came out strong for the start of the final 45 minutes. It took a handball decision and an Ohana penalty for Israel to get their goal, though they’d concede from a superb free-kick only minutes later. A single point was not ideal, but at least they were still very much in the hunt for that elusive top spot finish. 

Line-up (5-3-2): Ginzburg – Cohen II, Iluz, Amar, Alon, Pizanti (E Cohen 83) – Klinger, Davidi (Driks 79), Sinai (c) – Ohana, Rosenthal.

Match 3
09.04.1989, Mount Smart Stadium (Auckland)

New Zealand
Wright (20′)
Dunford (36′)


Rosenthal (17′)
Klinger (38′) 

Israel faced a difficult opponent in equally tricky conditions, where the strong wind played a part. With Ohana not 100 % fit after coming off with a groin injury for his club side during midweek, the Israeli managers opted instead for playful attacking midfielder Shalom Tikva, who made his first appearance of the qualification. In a more defensive layout than at home to Australia, with Tikva working along the right hand side, Rosenthal’s deft touch past Gosling saw the visitors move ahead on 17 minutes, only to be pegged back shortly after. The Israeli side struggled to make their mark on the game, and went behind following a fine attack by the hosts, only to draw level again minutes after through Klinger’s fine finish when played through by Sinai. After the break, the visitors were several times fortunate not to concede, but they themselves ought to have wrapped it up late on, when they had numerous chances to break. Indecision cost them the win, but another point next week will see them finish atop the group. 

Line-up (5-4-1): Ginzburg – Cohen II, Alon, Amar, Iluz, Pizanti (Parselani 62) – Tikva, Klinger (Ohana 71), Davidi, Sinai (c) – Rosenthal.

Match 4
16.04.1989, Sydney Football Stadium (Sydney)

Trimboli (88′)


Ohana (40′)

Having seen what a threat the pair of forwards were after Ohana came on as a substitute in Auckland last week, Schneor and Grundman opted to start with both of them in a more attacking outline than had been expected. They abandoned the five man defensive line, and the move could have surprised the hosts. With Parselani taking over as libero, the remaining three defenders were tracking each their Australian forward. The idea was obviously to defend as a compact unit and hit the hosts on the break. They almost succeeded 18 minutes in, when Rosenthal was brought down by Olver and should’ve had a penalty, but instead took advantage of a mistake at the back for the hosts, as Ohana nipped in to score a massively important opening goal. After the break, Israel defended comfortably everything which the hosts threw at them, which was generally aerial balls into the box, where Alon demonstrated his superiority. Australia’s late equalizer was ultimately immaterial. Israel got the point which they had come for, and would go on and play off against the CONMEBOL Group 2 winners. 

Line-up (4-4-2): Ginzburg – Cohen II, Parselani, Alon, Amar – Tikva (Aharoni 89), Klinger, Davidi, Sinai (c) – Ohana, Rosenthal.

Intercontinental play-off, leg 1
15.10.1989, Estadio Metropolitana (Barranquilla)

Usuriaga (74′)



As 4-4-2 had proved successful in their final group stage qualifier in Australia, this was the formation which the joint managers had gone with again. There was never going to be any doubt that the Israelis would sit back and try and perhaps snatch something on the break, although they had clearly set themselves up to try and take a scoreless draw back home. Alon had proved his worth as a man-marker against the Australians, and once again he contained the opposition’s danger-man, as Iguarán could do nothing. Israel were pinned back almost throughout, and Sinai’s lobbed first-half free-kick from distance was their only effort on goal. They gave little away at the back, and only conceded with 16 minutes left for play, as the Fajardo/Usuriaga combination was too much to deal with. A 1-0 first leg deficit was certainly no disaster, and they’d have been modestly content with the outcome. 

Line-up (4-4-2): Ginzburg – Cohen II, Barda, Alon, Amar – Tikva (Pizanti 62), Klinger, Davidi, Sinai (c) – Ohana (Levin 77), Rosenthal.

Intercontinental play-off, leg 2
Ramat Gan National Stadium (Tel Aviv)




For the massive return leg of the play-offs, the Israelis had opted to give left-sided defender Shmueli his debut. They were once again in 4-4-2, and had left star striker Ohana out, probably as he was carrying a knock. Levin begun up front with Rosenthal. While conceding plenty of first half possession, it was still the hosts who arrived at the best opportunities, with Rosenthal setting Tikva up for a first time chance from the penalty spot. The effort went well wide, while Levin saw Higuita save his shot from 20 yards. Defensively the Israelis coped well, while they still did not get an awful lot of movement out of Sinai. The captain was still an asset with his left foot, which he would use to switch play. Alon dealt well with Iguarán again. The second half saw Pizanti on for the debutant (injury), while Ohana was introduced shortly, and although the latter didn’t reach his peak, Israel would enjoy greater spells of pressure. They saw a huge Rosenthal chance go begging on 52 minutes, while Tikva had another effort wide, and Sinai struck the outside of the upright from a free-kick. Despite another Rosenthal attempt late on, it wasn’t to be. The Colombians achieved that precious draw, and progressed through to the World Cup at the Israelis’ expense. 

Line-up (4-4-2): Ginzburg – Cohen II, Amar, Alon, Shmueli (Pizanti h-t) – Tikva, Klinger, Davidi, Sinai (c) – Levin (Ohana 51), Rosenthal.


Israel had received a bye into the group stage of the OFC section of the World Cup qualification, where they were competing for the second successive time, and for the third time altogether, not accounting for the pair of qualification tournaments where the OFC and the AFC confederations had joined together (ahead of the ’74 and ’78 World Cups). 

Schneor and Grundman in Sydney

The joint managers, Itzhak Schneor and Ya’acov Grundman, were certainly not foreign to trying out various formations through the qualification group stage. Israel opened their campaign with a routine 1-0 home win against New Zealand, and little did they know at that point that Ronny Rosenthal’s early decider would give them their solitary win of the qualification. This is the only Israel qualifier which we have not had the opportunity to watch in full, but an educated guess suggests that they were in a 4-3-3 formation, as striker Eli Driks had been given a starting role, and most likely alongside Belgium based duo Rosenthal and Eli Ohana. 

Eli Ohana and his Australian marker Steve Calderan in Tel Aviv

Playing both of their home fixtures early on in the qualification, the Israelis next took on Australia, who had thrashed New Zealand 4-1 the weekend prior. It turned out to be a really hardfought game, in which the Israelis found Australia in resistant mood. They needed a favourable penalty decisison for a handball against the visitors’ Davidson to turn it in their favour, as Ohana dispatched the spot-kick for 1-0. Against a disciplined, tough opponent, though, the home side conceded late on from a terrific free-kick from distance, and although a three point return from their opening two fixtures was hardly a disaster, they’d have been somewhat disappointed not to have beaten what was considered their fiercest rival for the group’s top spot. 

Midfielder Nir Klinger (centre), mobbed for his goal in Auckland by Ronny Rosenthal and playmaker Shalom Tikva

After a three week break, and following New Zealand’s shock 2-0 win over Australia, Israel took on the Kiwis themselves, and managed a creditable 2-2 draw in difficult circumstances. Both sides had led during an enterprising opening 45 minutes, and the second half saw a couple of massive opportunities for the hosts, before the introduction of substitute Ohana saw Israel counter-attack at will. While they had been in 5-3-2 at home to the Aussies, they had started with Rosenthal as their sole striker in Auckland. With Ohana on, they abandoned their defensive stance somewhat, but could not quite get their numerous counters right. 

It had not mattered a whole lot if Israel had managed to win in New Zealand, unless they’d won by a scoreline of three goals or more. A single-goal margin defeat in Sydney would still have seen Australia finish atop, while a draw would see the Israelis through in either scenario. As it were, the managers had surprised the onlookers and probably even their opponents by removing two defenders who had both started all three of their previous qualifiers in Shlomo Iluz and David Pizanti, and instead reverted to a back four and four across the midfield. They were inferior possession-wise throughout the game, but it didn’t matter, as they shut the ineffective hosts out well, and even went ahead themselves five minutes before the break. Ohana it was who seized on a mistake at the back for the hosts to score a massive goal. Earlier, Rosenthal had been denied a clear penalty. In the final 45, Israel repelled the hosts with relative ease, until a late leveller by young substitute Trimboli. Still, a 1-1 scoreline was sufficient for the Israeli team, which finished top of the pile. 

That took them to the next stage of qualification, which was the intercontinental play-offs against winners of CONMEBOL confederation Group 2. With that qualification yet to take place, Schneor and Grundman would have to wait nearly half a year until they found out whether they’d be up against Colombia, Ecuador or Paraguay. 

3New Zealand4112573

Final phase

Israel eventually learnt that their opponents in the intercontinental play-offs were going to be Colombia, and so the Israeli management team knew that they would come up against a team with plenty of very technically gifted players, who at the same time were tight and well-organised at the back, and equipped with a potential goal threat through 32 year old marksman Iguarán up top. Firstly, they would need to travel to the Colombian Pacific coast, where Barranquilla would provide the backdrop for the first of the two legs. 

There were few changes from Israel’s final group stage qualification match, but throughout the group stage had their management team struggled for consistency in one of their defensive positions. Incidentally, the number 5 shirt had appeared to be difficult to fill, as three different players had worn it across the four fixtures back in March and April. Now, in Colombia, yet another one had come in: New libero Nissim Barda. A seasoned defender at 33, he was picked for his first Italia ’90 qualifier. 

Key figure, and not just in Barranquilla, but throughout: Bonni Ginzburg

In their 4-4-2, or actually something akin to 4-2-2-2, to defragment their midfield somewhat, they sat back just like had been expected, and invited the hosts on to them. The idea was to remain compact defensively, and try and hold the opposition off. It was always going to be a big ask to do so for two times 45 minutes, but they did not concede a great deal of chances, although they did owe to ‘keeper Ginzburg for a terrific one-hand stop from a Redín shot from distance during the first half. 

They did not manage to implement those swift breaks which had been on display during the away leg in Australia, as both Rosenthal and Ohana were effectively dealt with. And in midfield, the Israelis could rarely hold on to possession for long. Despite being well dominated for possession, though, they only allowed that solitary goal which Colombian second half substitute Usuriaga pot into the back of the net from close range after a one-two with the tasty Fajardo. 

There were certainly still opportunities for Israel to reach the World Cup despite that one goal deficit. They did start a little hesitantly in the home leg, but again, their opponents could not carve out any real opportunities, and it had been the hosts through Tikva and Klinger who had come the closest during the first half. To many’s astonishment, star striker Ohana had been left out, with Levin, also Belgium based, having been given a starting chance alongside Rosenthal. He did not really justify his selection, and Ohana, possibly not 100 % fit still, was brought on early in the second half. 

The moment when Rosenthal fails to angle his effort away from Higuita in Tel Aviv

Israel lay siege on the opponents for the final 45 minutes, and they arrived at a couple of major opportunities, first and foremost to Rosenthal, who failed to convert a Klinger cross right after Ohana’s introduction. Tikva had a shot just wide, and Sinai saw a long range free-kick kiss the outside of the upright, before Rosenthal towards the end failed to lob Higuita from inside the area. 

They had given it a proper go, had Israel, but ultimately they came short. Their inability to find the back of the net was what had cost them, and they exited after a 1-0 aggregate scoreline. However, they had gone toe to toe with a very decent Colombian side, and had absolutely no reason to be ashamed of their performances in either leg. 

Player Statistics

Number of players used: 20
Number of players including unused substitutes: 22
Ever-presents (540 mins): 6 players (Ginzburg, Amar, Cohen II, Alon, Sinai, Rosenthal)
Leading goalscorer: Rosenthal and Ohana 2 (Ohana 1 pen)
Yellow/red cards: 7/0

 – overview

Cohen II, Avi66540
Cohen, E.117

 – game by game

PlayerNew Zealand (h)Australia (h)New Zealand (a)Australia (a)Colombia (a)Colombia (h)AppsMins
Cohen, Avi II9090909090906540
Cohen, E.7+17
Missing data: A total of ten unused substitutes over three matches

 – ratings

PosPlayerAverage ratingNumber of rated games
1Nir Alon7,345
2Ronny Rosenthal7,065
3Yehuda Amar7,025
4Bonni Ginzburg6,945
Avi Cohen II6,945
6Nir Klinger6,905
7Shalom Tikva6,854
8Efraim Davidi6,845
9Moshe Sinai6,825
10Eli Ohana6,674
11David Pizanti6,633
Explanation to table: Five from Israel’s total of six qualifiers were available to us in full. Thus, a player needs to have obtained a rating in at least three of those in order to feature.

Top three individual ratings

1 Nir Alon 7,6 v Australia (a)
Ronny Rosenthal 7,6 v Colombia (h)
3 Bonni Ginzburg 7,5 v Colombia (a)

Post qualification

28.03.1990: Greece 2-1 Israel

25.04.1990: Israel 1-4 Romania

16.05.1990: Israel 3-2 Soviet Union

22.05.1990: Israel 1-2 Argentina