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Saturday October 12, 2013 MYT 6:57:00 AM
Saturday October 12, 2013 MYT 2:32:30 PM
by daniel alvarenga
Israel's players celebrate the goal against Portugal during their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match at Alvalade stadium in Lisbon October 11, 2013. REUTERS/Jose Manuel Ribeiro
LISBON (Reuters) - A late blunder by Portugal keeper Rui Patricio gifted Israel a 1-1 draw in their Group F qualifier on Friday that all but ended his country's hopes of snatching automatic qualification for next year's World Cup.
The result is enough to guarantee Portugal a playoff spot but victory would have kept them a point behind leaders Russia before Tuesday's final round of matches, while instead they are now three adrift and with a vastly inferior goal difference.
Portugal centre back Ricardo Costa's 26th-minute opener was cancelled out by Eden Ben Basat's easy chip for the visitors in the 85th minute.
The draw means Portugal have 18 points from nine games before hosting Luxembourg next week, while Russia have three points more before they travel to Azerbaijan.
Portugal will be without Cristiano Ronaldo and centre back Pepe for their final qualifier as the pair are suspended for yellow card accumulation.
"Our second half was worse than the first, we dominated but did not create many chances," Portugal coach Paulo Bento told local radio.
"We struggled to pass the ball around and were imprecise at times but were penalised by one mistake in the end."
The 48,300 fans who came to cheer on their country on a pleasant early Autumn evening at Lisbon's Alvalade stadium probably left somewhat disappointed despite the playoff spot.
The hosts dominated throughout, allowing the Israelis only the occasional counter but were punished in the end for their shortcomings in attack despite boasting the skills of the likes of Ronaldo and Nani.
With usual first pick Helder Postiga suspended, Hugo Almeida spearheaded Portugal's attack but the tall striker rarely threatened. Almeida missed a header from a good position and had another disallowed for offside in the second period.
Portugal were forced to deploy an untried back four but Bento's choices duly delivered as it was a passage of play between defenders that broke the deadlock midway through the first half.
Pepe pounced on a cross from left back Antunes and sent the ball to fellow centre back Ricardo Costa to fire in from close range.
The Israelis, needing a win to keep alive their qualification hopes, were most dangerous through Toulouse striker Basat, who wasted two good chances before scoring.
First, he sent a diagonal shot just wide in the first half and then fired a tame shot from a good position after a quick counter in the second.
Basat made no mistake five minutes from time when Patricio miskicked a pass that landed right at his feet, coolly chipping over as the Portugal keeper looked up in horror.
"These unfortunate mistakes happen to the best players in the world, it can happen to anyone, the most important is that we secured a playoff spot," said Portugal right back Andre Almeida, who grabbed his first cap on Friday.
Captain Ronaldo had a venomous free kick saved by Israel keeper Dudo Aouate in the dying minutes but it was too late for the hosts to sneak a win.
Europe's nine group winners will qualify automatically for the 32-nation tournament in Brazil, while the eight best runners-up will enter two-legged playoffs for the continent's remaining four berths.
(Editing by Sonia Oxley)
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