Soccer | Analysis

Barak Itzhaki’s Winning Script

He could have gone into the game with his missed penalty in the dying seconds of the Europa League game weighing him down, but the Maccabi Tel Aviv forward has a winner’s mentality.

Itay Meirson
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Itay Meirson

What didn’t happen in Haifa on Monday night:

Barak Itzhaki approaches the game with a 50-kilogram sack on his back, still thinking of the missed penalty four nights earlier against Apoel Nicosia. He could have thought “who the hell is this Eran Zahavi everyone thinks should have taken the penalty?” On 50 minutes, Maharan Radi puts an excellent cross five yards from goal; instead of diving at it with his head, heart and soul, Itzhaki decides to try to shoot. The ball flies into the stands. Zahavi makes a condescending gesture with his hand. Itzhaki sees it.

From this moment on, Itzhaki and Zahavi refuse to pass the ball to each other, or even exchange glances. Itzhaki’s silly sending off 15 minutes from time, with Haifa already leading 3-0, is inevitable. Rumors from the dressing room tell that Zahavi spat at him, but nobody knows if it’s really true. In any case, one thing is clear: Until these two brats learn how to play together and get along, Maccabi Tel Aviv will continue to play primitive soccer. The loss to Haifa is only a symptom. Did anybody really believe two such large egos could coexist in one team?

What did happen on Monday night:

Barak Itzhaki approaches the game with a 50-kilogram sack on his back, still hearing the voices that haunted him in the last four days, since his missed penalty: “Why didn’t Zahavi take the penalty?” Yes, Itzhaki is nervous and hurt, and rightly so. When people say Zahavi is as cool as a cucumber and was born for such moments, they’re actually saying that he, Itzhaki, wasn’t.

Throughout the first half his lips are held tight, his body language reflecting his nerves. After every failed move, one can see how angry he is with himself, swearing at the whole world. That penalty and Zahavi are still on his mind.

And then, on 50 minutes, Maharan Radi puts an excellent cross five meters from goal. Itzhaki is alone in front of the Haifa goal. Every junior player knows this ball must be shot with the foot; but not Itzhaki, not tonight. He dives at the ball with his heart, the same heart still burdened by the missed penalty, and turns the game around with an incredible goal, running to celebrate wildly with the away fans. And who is the first player to run up to congratulate him? Eran Zahavi. These two are a match made in heaven, giving their all for each other. If there was any bad blood — it was just a figment of your imagination.

Barak Itzhaki in July 2013. Credit: Nimrod Glickman