Portugal Stutters Again in 3-3 Draw with Israel in World Cup Qualifier

Frank Wagner@Fw1812Correspondent IMarch 22, 2013

GUIMARAES, PORTUGAL - FEBRUARY 06:  Cristiano Ronaldo (R) of Portugal runs beside his teammate Fabio Coentrao controlling the ball during the international friendly match between Portugal and Ecuador at the Estadio Dom Afonso Henriques on February 6, 2013 in Guimaraes, Portugal.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

Portugal's World Cup qualifying campaign took yet another hit Friday when they drew Israel 3-3 in Ramat Gan.

The result could have been a lot worse for A Selecção, who were well below par and were moments away from falling to the Israelites.

Portugal got a dream start to the match as a long ball earned them an immediate corner and Bruno Alves subsequently headed home for a 1-0 lead.

After a shaky first quarter of an hour, though, Israel found their feet and started hitting back.

In the 24th minute, the Blues and Whites found the equalizer, as Eden Ben Basat let Yuval Spungin's cross go between his legs and Tomer Hemed finished well.

Just 15 minutes later, the Israelis took the lead after Portugal's defensive woes reared their ugly head. A few nice passes split the Portuguese defense far too easily, releasing Ben Basat into the area where the forward unleashed a furious shot into the roof of the net.

While the Portuguese pushed for an equalizer, Israel doubled their lead in the 70th minute when Rami Gershon headed in a corner in a similar set play to Alves' opener.

Luckily, Portugal quickly responded, as captain Cristiano Ronaldo burst into the area and slid a perfect pass for Helder Postiga to dispatch into the net.

Despite multiple opportunities to even up the match, the contest looked destined to end in a victory for the home team.

Finally, three minutes into stoppage time, after a header by Hugo Almeida hit the bar and sprayed out to an Israeli defender, an attempted clearance banged off of Fabio Coentrao and into the net to split the points.

The draw gives Russia the opportunity to extend their lead in this World Cup qualifying group F when they take on Northern Ireland Saturday. A win would put the Russians up seven points with five matches to play, all but ending any hopes Portugal had to win the group and automatically qualify for next summer's tournament in Brazil.

Meanwhile, Israel still sits ahead of Portugal on goal difference, meaning that the Portuguese currently sit in third place and face elimination should it end that way.

Still, Israel has had the luxury of having faced Luxembourg, the lowest-ranked team in the group, twice, while Portugal has only played the away fixture. A hefty win against Luxembourg could easily vault Portugal ahead of Israel and into that playoff spot.

However, with just five matches remaining in their World Cup group, Portugal have little or no room for error in these final matches.