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Last-gasp Nimni numbs Cyprus

Wednesday, 17 November 2004

By John Leonidou at the GSP stadium

[1] Israel moved level on points with FIFA World Cup qualifying Group 4 leaders the Republic of Ireland and France after Avi Nimni's goal four minutes from time gave them a narrow victory in neighbouring Cyprus.

Penalty save

[2] Nimni finished from close range after Yossi Benayoun's sensational solo run into the area saw him slip past two defenders before dragging the ball back for his strike partner. But Israel had struggled for much of the second half after Ioannis Okkas had cancelled out Adoram Keisi's earlier effort. Cyprus even had a golden opportunity with a penalty on 74 minutes, but Michalis Konstantinou was brilliantly denied by Nir Davidovitch.

Benayoun threat

[3] It was a much-needed victory for Avraham Grant's side in a country where they have failed to win in three previous attempts. But they were buoyed by the 2-1 win in the reverse of this fixture in September, and the man of the match from that game, Benayoun, had the first real opening in a bright start by the visitors.

Opening goal

[4] The Real Racing Club Santander striker collected Nimni's pass inside the area but his shot was tame and Nicos Panagiotou easily dealt with the danger. The waspish Benayoun, who looked intent on adding to the three goals he has already collected in qualifying, was again involved when Israel broke the deadlock on 17 minutes.

Keisi goal

[5] Benayoun was tripped after dispossessing Costas Kaiafas on the edge of his own area and although Panagiotou managed to parry Nimni's powerful free-kick, the ball rolled to Adoram Keisi who finished coolly. Until then, Cyprus had borne little influence on the game, but the goal invigorated the hosts.

Cyprus comeback

[6] After increasing the tempo with a couple of half-chances, Cyprus grabbed a deserved equaliser just before the interval. Marios Elias' cross was flicked on by Konstantinou and Okkas finished emphatically from close range. Cyprus began the second half in similar vein and the lively Konstantinou had a superb opportunity when Nimni tripped Ilias Charalambous in the area.

Sublime volley

[7] But his spot-kick was well saved and after Benayoun had an excellent long-range volley tipped over the bar by Panagiotou, Nimni went from near-villain to hero when he scored the winner on 86 minutes. Unbeaten Israel are now on eight points, and face Ireland at home on 26 March. Cyprus travel to Switzerland four days later.

Israeli players celebrate in Cyprus