Israel suffered a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Kosovo after a brilliant goal in the first half by Milot Rashica in their rescheduled European Championship qualifier at the Pristina City Stadium on Sunday.
Israel, featuring in their first match since Hamas attacked the country on October 7, remain in third spot on 11 points from seven matches, a point ahead of Kosovo who have played eight.
The Group I Euro 2024 match was originally set to be played on October 15 but was postponed because of the Hamas-Israel conflict.
Before the game Kosovo police had said in a statement that they had prepared an operation to control possible crowds, stopping criminal acts and other activities.
Although largely secular, Kosovo is more than 90% Muslim. Many supporters of Palestine’s cause called on social media for Kosovo to ban the Israel team from entering the country.
Israel recognised Kosovo as a sovereign state back in 2020 and both countries have established diplomatic relations.
After a rocky start, with the crowd booing following Israel’s national anthem, the spirited visitors tried to open the scoring with shots from Dor Peretz and Eran Zahavi.
However, Kosovo went ahead with a brilliant strike from Rashica after a header by Vedat Muriqi in the 41st minute.
The hosts tried to increase the lead in the second half but were denied by Israel goalkeeper Omri Glazer.
The visitors pushed for an equaliser but finished with 10 men when Roy Revivo was sent off in the 95th minute after picking up a second yellow card for a foul on Ilir Krasniqi.
“Our country is more important than football,” Israel coach Alon Hazan told a press conference. “We cannot separate the war from us. But we have to play football and we want to represent our country very well.
“The chances (to reach the finals) still exist. We are looking forward for the game against the Swiss, it will be very difficult. And we’ll see what is the situation with the condition of the players,” he added.
Israel, who are aiming to reach their first Euros since becoming full UEFA members in 1994, will play their next two qualifiers, which were also rescheduled, in Hungary against Switzerland on November 15 and Romania three days later.
Romania are top with 16 points after eight games followed by the Swiss on 15 from seven matches. Fourth-placed Kosovo visit Switzerland on November 18 before hosting Belarus three days later. The top two in each group advance to the finals in Germany.
— Additional input from Reuters