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Portugal claws out draw with Israel

Come-from-behind tie staves off disaster, could be turning point

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It was a draw that felt more like a win.

Fighting back from a two-goal deficit midway through the second half of their World Cup qualification match against Israel, Portugal rallied to earn an important 3-3 draw and position themselves for a home stretch in which they will play three of their remaining five matches at home.

Defender Bruno Alves gave Portugal the lead after barely 80 seconds on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, but Israel -- who came into Friday's match joint-second with Portugal on seven points, five back of runaway Group F leaders Russia -- settled well and restored level terms in the 24th minute when in-form striker Tomer Hemed bulged the back of the net after teammate Eden Ben-Basat had let the ball pass through his legs.

Israel then went in front shortly before the break, and this time it was Hemed playing creator for Ben-Basat.

Hemed, the Group F scoring leader with six goals, delivered a cultured back-heel pass to Toulouse striker Ben-Basat, who arrowed his finish past goalkeeper Rui Patricio and into the top right-hand corner of the goal. Portugal had created a handful of chances before going behind, but as usual forward Helder Postiga had been wasteful with his finishing.

Thankfully for Postiga, who plays his club football in Spain for Real Zaragoza, there was little he could do to mess up his attempt in the 72nd minute as Cristiano's defense-splitting run and accurate pass left him with a tap-in. And it couldn't have come at a more vital time. Just two minutes earlier, Celtic defender Rami Gershon had headed Israel into a 3-1 lead from a corner kick.

Despite Portugal's clawback it looked as though Israel would snatch the three points as they managed to retain their lead as the 90 minutes expired. But in the third minute of stoppage time Real Madrid left-back Fabio Coentrao followed his own header, which had initially clanged off the bar, and nodded in the rebound to seal a 3-3 draw.

The result leaves Israel and Portugal level on eight points from five rounds, although after a midweek trip to Azerbaijan the Portuguese will host Russia, Luxembourg and Israel and will make only the journey to Northern Ireland before the conclusion of the schedule.

Friday's draw might not have been ideal for Portugal, but a loss would have been disastrous. And the manner of their comeback should have them in a good frame of mind for their remaining qualifiers.

NETHERLANDS YET TO DROP POINTS: The Netherlands entered Friday's World Cup qualifiers as the only team in Europe with a 100 per cent record on the campaign--a record they maintained thanks to a 3-0 win over Estonia in Amsterdam. It was a result they had to work for, however, as their opponents managed to keep them at bay until Rafael van der Vaart's opener two minutes after the restart. Robin van Persie doubled the advantage in the 72nd minute and Ruben Schaken rounded out the scoring in the 84th. The Netherlands are the Group D leaders with 15 points, leaving Hungary, Romania and Turkey in a three-way fight for a playoff spot.

FRANCE PASSES SPAIN IN GROUP I: Sergio Ramos scored in his 100th appearance for Spain, but with only 11 minutes remaining in Gijon, Group I rivals Finland drew level through Teemu Pukki and held on to take an unlikely point from the World and European champions, who will next visit France in World Cup qualifying. The French, meanwhile, established a two-point lead over the Spanish after dispatching Georgio 3-1 in Sant-Denis. Olivier Giroud, Mathieu Valbuena and Franck Ribery found the back for Les Bleus while Alexander Kobakhidze provided a measure of consolation for Georgia.

ENGLAND THRASHES SAN MARINO TO KEEP PACE WITH MONTENEGRO: England's 8-0 destruction of minnows San Marino took them to 13 points from five matches in Group H, setting up a tasty encounter with Montenegro on Tuesday. Montenegro beat Moldova 1-0 earlier on Friday and lead the bracket with 15 points, meaning even a draw against the Three Lions in Podgorica would be an acceptable result. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Ashley Young, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge each tallied once for England while Jermaine Defoe bagged a brace and Alessandro Della Valle scored an own goal. Juventus forward Mirko Vucinic claimed the only goal of the day for Montenegro. Twitter @jerradpeters

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 23, 2013 C7

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