Israel won a pair of World Cup soccer qualifiers between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, topping Macedonia and Liechtenstein by identical 2-1 scores.
In both games, Israel took an early 2-0 lead, then held on for wins that the team had to have to maintain any hope of qualifying for the 2018 competition in Russia.
Playing in Skopje, Macedonia, on Thursday, Oct. 6, Israel got first-half goals from Tomer Hemed and Tal Ben Haim, but Ilija Nestorovski cut the lead in half with more than 30 minutes left.
Goalkeeper Dudu Goresh became the hero when he saved a penalty in stoppage time after defender Eitan Tibi committed a foul and was ejected.
There was less drama three days later when Israel played host to Liechtenstein in Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium.
Hemed scored twice in the opening 16 minutes, and, despite surrendering a goal shortly after halftime to Maximilian Goppel, Israel got the win against FIFA’s 182nd-ranked team.
Three games into a 10-game home-and-home round robin, Israel has two wins and a loss and sits in fourth place with six points, behind Albania (also 2-1 with six points) on goal difference. Spain leads the group with 7 points; Italy is second with 7 points because of a worse goal difference.
After losing its home opener to Italy, 3-1, Israel is still an extreme long shot to make it to Russia. Only the winner of its Group G of European qualifying earns a place in the World Cup, while the second-place team likely will advance to a playoff against another group runner-up.
In the FIFA rankings, Spain is 11th, and Italy is 13th. Albania is the group’s third-ranked team at 40th overall; Israel is No. 98.
Israel has one more qualifier in 2016: at Albania on Nov. 12.