Israel chase leaders after Latvia victory
© AFP

Israel overcame hosts Latvia 2-1 to maintain their challenge towards the top of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying Group F.

The visitors dominated the first half and held an interval lead thanks to goals from Yossi Benayoun and Tal Ben-Haim, the latter coming from the penalty spot. Aleksandrs Cauna then gave Latvia hope of a comeback with a spot-kick of his own, but they were unable to add to their tally.

Knowing a win would take them level on points with group leaders Croatia, Israel attacked from the start and almost went ahead in spectacular fashion after six minutes when Maor Bar Buzaglo hit the post with his attempted lob over goalkeeper Andris Vanins from 35 yards.

Yuval Spungin then put a shot wide of the left post for the visitors while Vanins was called into action after 12 minutes, getting his hands to a volley from Tomer Hemed. But Israel's pressure finally paid off with 19 minutes on the clock. Hemed was the provider with a neat pass for Benayoun to fire in a low strike from the edge of the penalty area.

Latvia tried to muster a response and created a good chance six minutes before the interval from Cauna's corner, which found the head of Kaspars Gorkss but was directed over the bar by the defender. Any hopes of a recovery were hit hard four minutes later, though, when Spungin was brought down in the area by Artis Lazdins.

Ben-Haim stepped up to take the spot-kick and coolly placed the ball into the bottom left corner to give Israel some breathing space. Latvia threatened again 12 minutes into the second half when a dipping 25-yard strike from Jurijs Zigajevs had to be tipped over the bar by Dudu Aouate.

And the hosts were gifted a way back into the match in the 63rd minute when Israel midfielder Almog Cohen was penalised for a handball in the area, with Cauna making no mistake from the resulting penalty.

Aouate made another save from Cauna as Latvia stepped up the pressure for an equaliser, but it was Israel who came closest to scoring again six minutes from time with Vanins using his feet to turn away Hemed's close-range shot.