Opening Lines: A World Cup fantasy

Israel is down 1-0 and we're deep into injury time.

July 2, 2010 15:56
World Cup.

world cup 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

We’re on the edge of our seats here in the commentary box. Deep into injury time after a cracking 90 minutes in this year’s final. The World Eleven is up 1-0 against Israel and the Israelis have their backs to the wall, moments away from an agonizing defeat. The Israelis are desperately seeking an equalizer that will take the game into overtime. If Israel levels the score, we go to penalties. And the Israeli players, some of whom believe God is on their side, are confident in their penalty-taking abilities.

The Israeli team is looking haggard but determined to score. Coach Uzi Arad’s team hasn’t made any substitutions all game, deciding to stick with the opening 11 throughout. On the bench is crowd-favorite Tzipora, who has warmed up and had to sit down again several times during the course of the match as Arad hinted that a substitution was imminent, but Bibi, the Israeli captain, overruled. Also warming the bench are the flashy Lapid and the creative Deri. Looks as if Arad is sticking it out to the end, and won’t bring in any fresh legs.

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The ball is with the Israelis now. Yvette, the unpredictable, explosive striker, whose wild shots on goal from almost everywhere in the field during the entire game missed the mark, is steaming up the right flank. Not one for sophisticated dribbling, Yvette bulldozes his way through the defense, using his powerful frame and legs to shield the ball from defenders. Suddenly, he shoots! What a rocket! But the ball flies high over Putin’s goal and into the stands, where it hits a spectator on the head. The fan is knocked out cold. The crowd boos. Goal kick to the World 11.

Putin passes the ball to Chavez. Chavez to Lula. The Brazilian takes the ball upfield, elegantly sidestepping a lethargic Bogey. Lula looking for support finds Hosni. Hosni now, moving purposefully upfield, sends a short pass to Abdullah in midfield. Intercepted by the wily Barak! Barak to Bibi, short pass. Bibi passes back. Again. Barak passes to Bibi. Again. Lateral movement, they’re not moving forward, as if they’re testing out their boots. They’ve been doing this for the entire game; short, tactical passes to each other with no upfield movement, no penetration of the opposing defense.

The other Israeli players are open! Meridor on the left flank is screaming for the ball, frantically waving his arms. The ball doesn’t get to Meridor. The crowd boos; the entire stadium is indignant. The spectators are overwhelmingly against the Israelis, with just a handful of loyal supporters tucked into a corner of the huge stadium. The Bibi-Barak passing tactic hasn’t worked for the Israeli side for the entire game. With two minutes to go, when will they try something different?

More opposition defenders crowding Bibi now, pressure building on the Israeli captain to release the ball upfield. He looks for a striker, but Lieberman is too far over on the right. As he’s done throughout the game, Bibi chooses to play the ball back toward his defense. The Israeli captain turns and finds Yishai. Passes. Yishai now, taking the ball forward, looking for a sign from Bibi, but also, constantly, stealing anxious glances at Deri on the bench, to see if he’s warming up. Yishai, distracted, is stripped of the ball by the aggressive Erdogan, [the crowd roars]. Erdogan’s massive pressure on the Israeli defense caused Bibi’s own goal, putting the World 11 ahead in the 13th minute. Still Erdogan. The star of the game so far. What shape he’s in! Surely he’ll play in a bigger league after his stellar performance in this tournament.

Erdogan passes to Bashar. Bashar now. Fuad chasing him down hard, but the young Bashar is too quick for the stalwart Israeli defender. Fuad, spent, gives up the chase and shouts over to Barak for intervention. Barak ignores him, looking up to see himself on the big screen instead. Bashar’s managed to create masses of space for himself. No pressure on the young midfielder. Bashar passes to Mahmoud. The wily and dangerous midfield marshall has the ball now. Moves forward, stops, pulls back a few paces and forward again. Excellent control and patience. Mahmoud keeping the ball now, waits for his attackers to enter the Israeli box. Mahmoud winding through the Israeli defense now. The crowd applauds his skill. Mahmoud looks like he’s enjoying himself. He sends in a dangerous pass!

The tall Bashar climbs into the air and heads it towards the goal. Excellent strike! Courageous save by the Israeli goalie Katzele! Katzele kicks the ball upfield, far, far upfield, praying to God that the ball finds Lieberman. But the ball lands at the feet of the dangerous, turbaned Hassan. The crowd roars. Israel on the defensive again. Hassan to Bashar. Bashar to Mashaal. Mashaal to Mahmoud. Excellent coordination between these four. They’re all running into space left by the Israeli defenders. Shalom tackles Mahmoud hard. Mahmoud goes down, he’s writhing in pain on the pitch. The stadium erupts in a deafening boo.

Referee Ban blows his whistle. Foul. Ban pulls out a red card. Shalom’s out! Shalom’s gone! It’s looking bleak for the Israelis. The entire Israeli team rushes to Ban. Bibi’s in Ban’s face screaming: “Hypocrisy,” “unfair treatment.” Ban is unmoved. In all fairness, the statistics show Ban has called more fouls against the Israelis. But some of the Israeli tackling has been atrocious. The tackling by both sides has been vicious. Shalom skulks off the pitch. Israel’s down to a minyan.

One minute to go. Free kick to the World 11. The entire Israeli team lines up to defend its goal, holding their crotches as Erdogan readies to take the kick from just outside the penalty box. Erdogan shoots, the ball flies straight into Begin, who doesn’t flinch. Begin clears to Braverman, then collapses. Braverman passes to Bibi. Bibi now. Bibi on the ball, fends off a wild tackle from Gaddafi. No whistle from Ban for dangerous play. Still Bibi, looks for Barak. Again with this?? But Barak has quietly stolen behind opposition lines, hoping to set himself up for an unconventional strike. Barak’s too far away from Bibi for a safe pass. Bibi’s isolated. He stops, turns on the ball, zigs, zags, turns back again to look for support, but his teammates are slow to arrive. The Israeli captain is alone, harassed now by defenders, boxed in. Time is running out.

Bibi has no choice. His face is drenched with sweat. He breaks away from his harassers and sends a hail-Mary kick across the field to Barak, who is alone at the opposition goal... the ball spins in the air, the stadium goes quiet, the whole world is watching...

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