Scotland’s midfielder Ryan Christie tries to cross as he is marked by Israel’s midfielder Manor Solomon during the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier group F football match between Israel and Scotland at Bloomfield stadium in the Israeli Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv
Scotland have faced Israel nine times in the footballing history of the two nations and six of those meeting have come in the past three years.
What we’ve learned from these matches is that, despite 35 world ranking places between them, there is very little to separate the two sides when they go head to head.
Scotland have won two of the six encounters, one of those on penalties after a 0-0 draw, Israel have two victories to their name and the two have drawn twice.
In the three games that did end in 90 minute victories either way, there was only one goal between them in the final score.
Those statistics only scratch the surface of course, some matches have been more one sided affairs than others, but looking at all of the encounters as a whole just provides even further evidence to the equality of the two sides.
In the past six meetings the average statistics for the two teams look like this:
- Average shots on target - Scotland = 3, Israel = 3.5
- Average shots off target - Scotland = 5, Israel = 5
- Average corners - Scotland = 5, Israel = 4
- Average possession - Scotland = 46%, Israel = 54%
As the famous quote begins, statistics are like bikinis...
For those of us who have sat through the combined 630 minutes of football, plus one nerve rattling penalty shoot out, we’ve been able to see how little a difference in quality on the park there is.
That first meeting in October 2018 in the Nations League, which came around 32 years after the sides had last met, started with the Scots firm favourites for the win and was even considered something of an embarrassment when Israel not only won 2-1, but dominated the match for large spells.
The thinking of Scottish fans has come a long way since then, nobody is taking this Israeli side lightly or thinking they have some sort of right to win the match against a well drilled outfit with more than one quality player.
Eran Zahavi, Israel’s all time top scorer, will be the most feared name on the opposition team sheet come Saturday.
The 33-year old PSV Eindhoven attacker has terrorised the Scots over the past three years and has netted twice in their six encounters.
Right back Eli Dasa is another who has caught the eye, the 28-year old seems to have the stamina of ten men and has given Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney plenty of trouble when he does get up the park.
There’s also the likes of former Hibs goalkeeper Ofir Marciano and current Celtic duo Nir Bitton and Liel Abada in the squad who the Tartan Army will be familiar with from their domestic performances.
With so much pointing towards another evenly balanced fixtures, what advantages do Steve Clarke and the Tartan Army have to give them the edge?
The first and most obvious is the home stadium advantage and what and boost that will be at a sold out Hampden Park.
Scotland supporters were unable to cheer on their country against Israel at Hampden in October 2020, the biggest match in over two decades for the men in dark blue as they pursued a place at the European Championship finals.
That fixture, played one year ago but originally due to take place earlier in 2020 at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, was also sold out.
With crowds prevented from entering that match, as well as the 1-1 draw in September 2020, Israel have only ever played in front of a Hampden crowd once and that was November 2018’s 3-2 win for the home side, a 21,281 crowd coming in at less than half of the Glasgow stadium’s capacity.
The “Hampden Roar” is famous for a reason, the Tartan Army are capable of creating one of the best atmosphere’s in the international game and you can bet on them to bring the passion to this latest fixture.
Then there’s the squad, we already know the Israeli threat but the Scots are arguably in a better place since the last time the two teams met.
Billy Gilmour is getting regular game time in the Premier League with Norwich City, having started four of the Canaries seven league fixtures so far, and that’s providing much need experience for the 20-year old who is already becoming a key player for Steve Clarke.
Nathan Paterson has come in to provide another option at right back, previously considered a “problem position” due to a lack of depth and apparent quality, while Jack Hendry has reemerged as solid defensive option in the past seven months and is now playing Champions League football with Club Brugge.
Lyndon Dykes had scored one goal in 22 matches when the Scots last faced Israel but he’s already got six goals in all competitions for QPR and Scotland this season, which is a far more promising return for the former Livingston forward.
From back to front the Scots are visibly in a better place than they were going into March’s 1-1 draw in Tel Aviv and they also come into this latest meeting full of confidence after a battling 1-0 win in Austria during the previous round of international fixtures.
It was the first time Scotland had beaten a nation ranked higher than themselves, away from home and not including friendlies or penalty shoot-outs, since a Robert Snodgrass goal gave them a 1-0 victory over Croatia in Zagreb back in 2013.
The visitors are also in decent form though, having beaten Austria 5-2 themselves and having won three of their five international fixtures since last facing the Scots, with their two defeats coming against heavy hitters Denmark and Portugal.
Despite that, you’ve got to feel that Scotland will have the edge in this meeting even if all previous signs point away from a dominant display.
This current crop of players, backed by 50,000 Tartan Army foot soldiers, are on course to take another massive step towards qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Qatar.
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