In Israeli Soccer, Frustration Is a National Tradition

The last time our boys in blue and white beat a better team in a crucial game was in 1999, against Austria.

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Justified praise was heaped on some of the national team players following Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Portugal, and coach Eli Guttman came up with a good game plan. But let's face it, Israel was ahead 3-1 in the 72nd minute against a soccer team playing badly. Israel should have won.

As usual, Israel failed – or at least failed to succeed – in a crucial game; it lacked that extra something. As usual, hope turned into disappointment.

The last time Israel beat an obviously better side in a vital game was back in 1999, against Austria. Yes, that was the previous millennium, when Ehud Barak was prime minister and hope still abounded. Back then, Shlomo Scharf was the coach, and Arik Benado, Yossi Abukasis and Tal Banin were players, not coaches. That was before Eyal Berkovic became a television pundit.

Fourteen years and seven qualification tournaments later, the story remains the same. The balloon deflates.

For Guttman, this moment occurred in the most painful way imaginable – at the end of a fine performance (though not by Dudu Aouate, Maor Melikson, Eitan Tibi and the substitutes). That’s what makes the miss of 2013 more painful for the blue and white's fans. But what's really sad is the repetition.

Despite everything, some of the players – both those playing abroad and those earning their keep in the Premier League – proved they deserve to wear the national jersey (notably Sharon Yeini, Tomer Hemed, Rami Gershon and Eden Ben Bassat). In the post-star era – Yossi Benayoun was the last Israeli star – they simply did their job proficiently.

Portugal was weak in defense, disorganized at times, and fell asleep after taking the early advantage. And Cristiano Ronaldo will want to forget this game.

But it was a good result for Portugal, especially considering they were down by two goals. The Portuguese will probably finish first or second in the group and qualify for Brazil via a playoff. Israel will stay at home, once again. It really is true. There is nothing new under the sun.

Itay Shechter, after his team Hapoel Nazareth Illit dropped a league.Credit: Ancho Gosh
Tomer Hemed, left, mixes it up against Pepe of Portugal on March 22, 2013.Credit: AP

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