Not in his worst dreams did Guy Luzon imagine the grilling he would get in the press following Saturday’s 4-0 drubbing by Italy in front of home fans in the European Under-21 Championship. Now he fears he’s losing those very same fans’ support.
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Luzon spoke in the past two years about open, positive soccer, the type that would leave the fans feeling good after a game, notwithstanding the result. Of course he hoped Israel would get to the semifinal stage, but even he, the great optimist, knew the gap between Israel and the other teams was so large as to be insurmountable. The coach genuinely believed that with a little help from the stands and the weather conditions, the team would look a lot better than it did against Italy. He certainly didn’t expect a 4-0 whitewash at Bloomfield Stadium.
Both players and coach took the result hard. Luzon stuck to the line he has taken ever since assuming the job, and hid his disappointment with his charges. This is especially true regarding the seemingly absent Maccabi Haifa midfielder Eyal Golasa, on whom the coach hung such high hopes. But he was one of the weakest players against Norway, and when he was red-carded against Italy − however unfairly − Israel’s last chance to reach the semifinal stage disappeared.
The coach arrived at the post-match press conference nervous, disappointed, even broken. He tried to maintain a cool exterior, but the journalists’ questions about the disappointed fans ruffled him. “I’m very proud of this team,” he said. “Until the player was sent off we played excellently against a much stronger Italy team. Even though we were down to ten players, every one of them gave his all. I don’t have even half a complaint about them. The players moved the ball, set up scoring chances and performed well. In soccer you have to aim high but if we played a better team than us, then nothing can be done.
“We gave 100 percent,” said Luzon, “but unfortunately the fans were cursing the players.” Then he turned his venom on the attending reporters. “Most of you ridiculed it when I said that Norway is a strong team − but look what they did to England. It’s disgraceful that there are those who dare to criticize the players and me. It’s not my team − it’s the state’s.”
The players, who were also disappointed with the fans, did not hold this in. Taleb Tawatha, who played well against Norway but was weak against Italy, said: “The fans let us down. Italy is a great team and there are significant gaps in quality between us. We’re in a tournament with the top eight teams in Europe − these aren’t any old teams, but the fans don’t take us seriously. The referee ended the game for us with the sending-off, but even with 11 players the teams weren’t balanced. We are playing in a tournament featuring the best teams in Europe, but our fans don’t respect us for what we are doing. It’s a shame that it’s like that here.”