Soccer / Yaacov Hodorov, Age 79, Israel's Greatest 'Keeper

Yaacov Hodorov, widely regarded as Israel's greatest ever goalkeeper and its best player of the 1950s and '60s died yesterday at the age of 79 after a long illness.

Hodorov played for Israel 31 times until 1964, making his debut against Cyprus in 1949. He played for most of his club career for Hapoel Tel Aviv, with whom he won the league title in 1957 and the State Cup three years later.

Hodorov was awarded the Israel Prize earlier this year, but missed the ceremony after suffering a stroke.

"He was like half the team," said former Israel team mate Shiye Glazer, "like an impenetrable wall."

Hodorov was named one of the top five goalkeepers in the world in 1957 following his performance in a World Cup qualifier against Wales in Cardiff, where he repeatedly denied the legendary striker John Charles before breaking his nose late in the game as Israel eventually succumbed 2-0.

He also played with a broken hand against the Soviet Union in front of some 70,000 spectators in Tel Aviv when Israel lost 2-1 in an Olympic Games qualifier.

Hodorov was born on June 16, 1927 in what was then Mandatory Palestine. He suffered from a mild disability, and his doctors recommended he take up athletics. It was later that he became a soccer player, joining Maccabi Rishon at the age of 15, before later crossing the lines to city rival Hapoel.

A sensational appearance in the State Cup semfinal against Hapoel Tel Aviv earned him a place on the team where he would spend the next 15 years before leaving for second-division Hapoel Ramat Gan, where he earned promotion and in 1964 took the first division championship with the team.

Hodorov also had spells with Shimshon Tel Aviv and Hapoel Holon before calling it a career.

"Yaacov Hodorov was a hero for many of us in our youth, one of the most wonderful sportsmen Israel has ever had," said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

For colors and country

"In the 1950s Hodorov received an offer from Arsenal," recalled his Hapoel Tel Aviv and Israel teammate Ematzia Levkovic. "The offer was for 50 pounds [sterling] a month, an enormous sum for those days. Hodorov didn't even think of accepting it. 'What would I do there?' he would say to us. He really was a player who played for his team colors and for national pride. He was a goalkeeper, a defender and a full back all wrapped in one. He was a symbol and a leader."

Israel Football Association chairman Itche Menahem, another former Israel teammate, said: Hodorov was a legend in his own lifetime, a model for every kid who ever kicked a ball."

Shiye Faigenbaum, another Hapoel Tel Aviv legend who grew up watching Hodorov, recalled: "Hodorov was a real professional, long before soccer in Israel was a professional sport. He would turn out for training an hour before the start at a time when most players had no awareness of sporting discipline."

Hodorov will be laid to rest at 1 P.M. today at the Old Cemetery in Rishon Letzion.