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Benayoun brilliance stuns Cyprus

Wednesday, 8 September 2004

By Ofer Ronen-Abels at Ramat Gan stadium

[1] Israel fought back to beat Cyprus in their first competitive home match in nearly three years.

Good start

[2] Avraham Grant's side won with two second-half goals in ten minutes courtesy of Yossi Benayoun and Walid Badir after Michael Konstantinou had given the visitors the lead against the run of play at the Ramat Gan national stadium in Tel-Aviv. It means Israel have four points from their first two games in Group 4, following their creditable 0-0 draw against France on Saturday.

Changes made

[3] Grant made two changes from the side that played in Paris as Avi Nimni and Adoram Keisi stepped in for Yigal Antebi and Omri Afek. Nimni, wearing the captain's armband, was positioned in the hole behind Omer Golan with Benayoun on the left and Yaniv Katan on the right. Cyprus coach Momcilio Vukotic named three central defenders, showing his determination to stay solid at the back.

Early opportunities

[4] However, it was Israel's rearguard that was first to be exposed as Stelios Okkarides shot wide early on. Nimni then had a chance at the other end but narrowly missed the target. The first real goalscoring opportunity came in the 15th minute as Omer Golan ghosted into the box and sent a header just wide.

Solo goal

[5] Konstantinou tried his luck in the 21st minute but Israel were having the better of the opportunities. However, it was Cyprus who struck first. Panathinaikos FC striker Konstantinou capitalised on a mix-up in the home defence in the 57th minute to score his side's first goal of this qualification campaign, after they lost 3-0 in the Republic of Ireland at the weekend. Stavros Georgiou thought he had scored a second three minutes later but the goal was disallowed for offside. Instead, in the 64th minute, Israel drew level with a spectacular solo goal.

Home joy

[6] Real Racing Club Santander midfield player Benayoun picked up the ball on the edge of the area and went past six players before shooting into the net from a tight angle. Badir then struck ten minutes later, heading in from a Katan corner to delight the 19,000 fans in the crowd. Cyprus did their best to get back into the match but the home side remained a threat and could even have added to their tally in the closing moments.

Omri Afek congratulates Walid Badir on his goal