Does Israeli Soccer Dabble in the Black Arts?

Israel's Tal Ben Haim allegedly jinxed Welsh superstar Gareth Bale.

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Wales's midfielder Gareth Bale takes an unsuccessful freekick during the Euro 2016 game against Israel. September 6, 2015.
Wales's midfielder Gareth Bale takes an unsuccessful freekick during the Euro 2016 game against Israel. September 6, 2015.Credit: AFP

The British press thinks it has come up with an explanation for Israel's surprising draw with Wales in Euro 2016 soccer qualifier on Sunday night – witchcraft!

"Call it witchcraft, call it voodoo, call it black magic," wrote Richard Innes in the Daily Mirror. "Whatever it is, it clearly worked."

"After all, what chance does a humble Welshman stand against ancient Israeli dark magic?" asked JJ Bull in the Telegraph, adding helpfully that the legendary Israeli prowess is "sometimes referred to as 'The Psyche Out.'"

The references are to a free kick late in the game taken by no less that Welsh superstar Gareth Bale. To quote Bull: "The Real Madrid forward lined up the shot like he had done so many times in the past, as he had so successfully done in training for all these years, yet when he struck the ball, it flew over the bar."

Had Bale scored, Wales would have been assured of its first qualification for a major tournament since 1958. In the event, Wales supporters were "left massively frustrated, as Israel somehow found a way of stopping Bale from scoring," according to the Mirror.

But what precisely had Israel done? Examination of the video evidence soon gave the answer. "Gareth Bale freekick jinxed by Tal Ben Haim witchcraft," ran the headline in the Telegraph. "Israel’s Tal Ben Haim jinxed Gareth Bale’s free kick with bizarre magical sorcery," wrote the 101 Goals website.

"Watch Israel's Tal Ben Haim use football WITCHCRAFT on Wales' Gareth Bale," screamed the Mirror.

The video clearly shows Ben Haim making strange hand gestures as Bale ran up to kick the ball, which proceeded to fly over the bar. Was it witchcraft?

Ben Haim isn't saying, which hasn't prevented the British press from going to town on the story. "Tal Ben Haim II (not of Chelsea and Portsmouth) managed to jinx the Welshman’s free kick with a piece of strange sorcery," was the take of Dov Rawson in 101Goals. "Jinx?
Curse? Or something completely different?" asked Joe Gallagher in the Bleacher Report.

"We may never know the answer," wrote the Telegraph's Bull, "but Ben Haim's legend will live on – as will the curse he placed upon Bale's free kick."

Whatever it was, it wouldn't be the first time that Israeli soccer players have resorted to the supernatural in their search for success.

Ben Sahar famously changed his name – at the suggestion of a rabbi – after being let go by Chelsea and Uri Geller once took credit for saving Reading by calling on his esoteric powers.

Now Ben Haim seems to have kept alive Israel's hopes of playing in the Euro 2016 tournament. All in a day's work for an Israeli sorcerer.

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