England were thrown a Euro 2008 lifeline in Tel Aviv as Israel overcame Russia
to leave Steve McClaren's men requiring just a draw against Croatia to qualify.
Dorel Golan's stoppage-time winner, just seconds after Dmitri Sychev had
struck a post with a shot which looked destined to send England out, must have
raised the roof not only off the Ramat Gan Stadium in Tel Aviv but the Grove
Hotel in Watford, where McClaren was watching on, accompanied by his coaching
McClaren must have been shredding his fingernails as, for 29 long minutes,
Israel resisted their increasingly-desperate vistors after Diniyar Biyaletdinov
had levelled Elianiv Barda's early effort.
Yet it appeared all the hard work would be wasted when Sychev broke through.
Amazingly, the Russian's seemingly goalbound shot bounced off the outside of
the Israeli post. And, as they poured forward looking for a winner, the visitors
were caught with the perfect sucker punch as Golan scored the goal which could
mean so much to McClaren.
With star strikers Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney both missing through injury,
plus skipper John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, who is suspended, holding Croatia,
who have not lost during their Group E campaign and hammered England in Zagreb
13 months ago, is by no means automatic.
However, with Croatia now through thanks to Russia's failure tonight, McClaren
will hope they lack the desire his own side must show if they are to make the
most of such an unexpected reprieve.
There are times when it has appeared McClaren has been cursed as England
In Russia last month, McClaren's men saw a winning position crumble completely
on the back of an awful penalty decision when a foul by Wayne Rooney was shown
to be well outside the area.
The subsequent loss of Rooney to a freak training ground accident only
increased McClaren's misery, his nightmare compounded by the thigh strain
Michael Owen picked up in Austria last night which means he will miss the
A consistent theme during a difficult week has been McClaren's belief that
Wembley clash will be make-or-break.
Instead of remaining within the bosom of his family in the north-east,
McClaren chose to watch events unfold with his team of coaches at their Watford
base, desperately hoping his prediction came true but equally aware it could be
his own version of the Last Supper.
Yet it seemed his prayers were going to be answered when Elianiv Barda flicked
Israel into a 10th-minute lead.
At the time, Russia seemed disabled by nerves, unable to stem the flow of
It would have been no surprise and in no way unjust had the hosts doubled
their lead, although the closest they came was when Barak Itzhaki and Barda
failed by inches to convert Maor Bar Bazaglo's outswinging free-kick to the far
But, as soon as the second-half began, it was obvious Hiddink had prompted a
revolution in belief.
Suddenly, it was Russia on top and creating all the chances.
Although Dudu Aouate stood firm for a while, it was only a matter of time
before the visitors levelled.
The equaliser was a fine example of team play, with four men involved on the
edge of the area before Andrei Arshavin rolled a pass into the path of
Biyaletdinov which invited the finish.
Israel were now on the retreat and McClaren must have had his head in his
hands as he watched Dmitri Sychev flash a 20-yard shot just wide.
Another shot from Sychev followed, along with yet more Russian pressure.
Indeed, throughout the final half hour, Israel mustered just one chance, with
Gal Alberman's flick just off target.
But, in a gut-wrenching finale, Sychev came so close to knocking England out
before Golan finished Russia off.