a different side of Israel

Tag: Sports

Israeli Soccer Hits Big Time In UK

Yossu BenayounIsrael footballers seem to be going from strength to strength these days. Following on the heels of Avraham Grant’s success at coaching the London based Chelsea Football Club to several victories (yes, the Brits now know who he is) Israeli mid-fielder Yossi Benayoun scored no less than three outstanding goals on Tuesday to help lead the Liverpool football team to an amazing 8-0 victory over a hapless visiting Besiktas football team. Yossi’s hat-trick goals were not only brilliant but they helped inspire his club to literally pulverize the hapless Turkish squad. “It was like going to a turkey shoot, and they (Besiktas) were the turkeys” many fans were saying following the match.

Benayoun, who also plays “occasionally” on his country’s National Team (he’s the captain), joins a list of other successful footballers who are making their mark playing for teams in the U.K. and elsewhere. As for Grant, he came on board the Chelsea Club in what could only be described as one of the club’s worst times. Though many fans and sports reporters gave him less than two weeks to survive at Chelsea, Grant proved them wrong and his team is now ranked no. 5 in the English Premier League.

Other Israelis who have been successful on foreign teams include controversial striker Eyal Berkovitz who had to put up with a lot of crap from both fellow players and fans when he played in the U.K. All this may be changing now as the success of Israeli players and coaches seem destined to be a fact in the U.K. Another Israeli footballer, Ben Shahar is only 18, yet has already played for two English teams, Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers. Shahar is one of the youngest Israelis ever to have this opportunity, made possible due to his acquiring Polish citizenship which allowed him to play in the U.K. since Poland is also an E.U. member.

There’s no doubt that more Israeli footballers will seek their playing fortunes outside of their homeland as the temptation of much higher salaries and bonuses is too much to pass up. What’s needed now, however, is for an Israeli team to achieve greatness by qualifying for the World Cup Football Competition. This feat has not been done since the late 1960’s when an Israeli football team did qualify but were afterwards eliminated early in the competition. Israeli young men having to serve three years of military duty, something not required in the U.K. and in other E.U. countries, is a big problem, along with a problem of encouraging and training young Israeli athletes to pursue a career in professional football. A few years ago, an aspiring Israel Hapoel Football squad nearly made it into the quarter finals of the FA Cup competition, which might have led to a World Cup bid.

The success of players like Benayoun and Shahar may change all of this, however. What is needed is motivation, good training, and plenty of inspiration. Grant will probably not remain forever in the U.K., and perhaps he will be willing to coach an Israeli national team to qualify again for a World Cup berth. If they make it, the Israeli team will just have to contend with teams from the U.K., Spain, France, Brazil, Germany, and other countries. But that’s how it works!

Avraham Who?

Avraham GrantThe British football tabloids and other news media sources are having a field day regarding the pending appointment of former Israeli National Team coach Avraham Grant to coach the Premier League team, other known as “The Blues”. Grant replaces Jose Mourinho who suddenly quit the Chelsea team on Wednesday following adverse publicity concerning the teams’ recent performance including a lackluster 1-1 Champions League match draw against the much inferior German Rosenborg team.

Grant, age 51, was born in the Israeli City of Petach Tikvah in 1956. His football career includes being head coach of the Israeli Premier League football clubs Macabbee Haifa, and Macabbee Tel Aviv, as well as being coach of the Israeli national team which almost made it into the World Cup team line up in 2006. He was hired last July by Chelsea Club owner Roman Abramovich to assist the now departing Mourinho. Grant, though virtually unknown in the U.K., is known in Israel a tough, experienced coach whose game strategies have resulted in scores of victories. When interviewed on the street in the team’s home “territory” in S.W. London, most Chelsea fans said “Avraham Who?” in regards to their knowledge of this man from a very controversial country, as far as most Brits are concerned.

Mourinho formerly coached the successful Portugese team FC Porto before being hired to coach the Blues in 2003. He has often called himself “The Special One” in regards to his talent and skills.

Chelsea’s fortunes have been dampened in recent years, with a number of disappointing losses and ties which have reduced the Blue’s former luster. These disappointments are said to be part of the reason for Jose Mourinho’s sudden departure from his position as head coach. Grant will be assisted by Bill Clark, a former Chelsea player and experienced game strategist.

Chelsea is currently ranked at No. 5 in Premier League standings. They face another high ranking team, Manchester United, in a very crucial game on Sunday. Many people are wondering if Grant, being Jewish, will be present during Chelsea practices on Friday and Saturday, which is also the Jewish Holy Day of Yom Kippur.

That speculation is anybody’s guess, and it might bode well for Avraham Grant to take time off to pray in a London synagogue since Yom Kippur is Judaism’s holiest day and is one in which God seals a person’s fate for the coming year. That might be an important ‘strategy’ for both Mr. Grant, as well as his new position.

The Great Peacemaker

Iraq WinsIraq; that worn torn country where sectarian violence is rampant and daily car bombs and other forms of terrorism have become a way of life, finally had reason to celebrate when their national football team won the Asian Cup by beating Saudi Arabia 1-0. Many might wonder how this beleaguered land could even have a sports organization capable of sending a national team to play in an event that is one of the preliminary qualifying tournaments for playing in the World Cup football competition, played every four years.

What is really thrilling is seeing how the Iraqi people have come together to celebrate this event; displaying an element of national pride that hasn’t been around for years – even during the more than 30 reign of dictator Saddam Hussein. Following the Iraqi team victory, Iraqi citizens from all backgrounds; Sunni, Shiite, Kurds, and others came together to not only celebrate their team’s accomplishment but to display their own national pride which had been lacking there for nearly two generations.

This is not the first time that sporting events have brought people together and instilled in them a sense of deep national pride. It happens all the time and for a brief while, old animosities appear to be forgotten and individual hatreds are put on a back burner. The Iraqi team victory may not mean much to people living in Israel; but the spirit of it should show both Israelis and other people living in this region that perhaps there is a better way to deal with differences and hatreds other than by force of arms.

Perhaps the time has come for peoples in this region to agree to compete against each other not by military aggression but by participation in sporting events. Taking the Asian Cup into account, Israel does not play in this event due to the religious and political animosity that still exists between the Jewish State and her neighbors. Suppose that it were possible for Israeli teams to participate in sporting competitions with countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and even Iraq. Such events might help a lot towards solving political and cultural differences, and might even help to bring people closer together. For some reason, the comradeship that takes place in athletic competition, including the Olympic Games, at least contributes towards peace and friendship, if only for a limited time.

The next Olympiad is only one year away. Perhaps the time has come for Israeli athletes to be able to compete more against athletes from countries with which Israel is still technically at war. In any event, it is worth any possible risks; and if Israeli athletes or teams are able to directly compete against athletes from countries like Iran, than perhaps the “ice” will melt; or at least thaw out a bit.

So while Iraqi fans are still celebrating their team’s victory, perhaps some of that good feeling might work its way towards Israel. Why not? Let sports be the great equalizer as it has shown to be in Iraq.

Call for Duty

Jamie ArnoldIsraeli national sport teams are recently enjoying the services of two foreign athletes who became Israeli citizens: Argentinean Roberto Colautti in soccer and American Jamie Arnold in basketball. Both have become first squad members and integral parts of their teams, as Colautti scored the winning goal against Estonia and Arnold became his team leader in scoring and rebounding in the current campaign.

Some might say that allowing non-Israeli athletes to take part in national teams play is contradictory to the national teams concept: a national team should be comprised from Israeli nationalities, not from over-seas mercenaries. After all, these players came here to play for a professional club and very well could have been playing in some other country.

Yet, the very fact that these players play in the national team speaks for itself, mainly because there is very little money involved (in comparison to their salary in the professional clubs, that is). That rules out the mercenary claim. Could it be that these athletes play for the national team simply because they care? It very well could be.

Just look at Tal Burstien, for example, considered by many to be the best active Israeli basketball player and an important part of the national team. He made it clear long before this summer’s campaign that he would not take part in it, wanting to have one summer to rest in (in any case, he was injured in the last game of the pro season and could not have played even if he wanted to) – a very unpatriotic negligence of his national duty. In light of acts like this, we should have even more respect to those alleged foreigners, who gave up their summer to play for the national team.

Zidane – The Headbutt Heard Around the World

I got this in an email and its a nice break from current events. Zidane’s headbutt from different perspectives.
Funny how everyone sees things differently…

This is how the Germans saw it

German Zidane Perspective

This is how the French saw it

French Zidane Perspective

This is how the Italians saw it

Italian Zidane Perspective

This is how the Press reported it

Press Zidane Perspective

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