The most poignant moment in Israel’s 4-0 humbling at the hands of Russia on
Tuesday night arrived in the 50th minute of the 2014 World Cup
The second half at National Stadium in Ramat Gan was well
underway, but with Israel already trailing 2-0, and just as importantly, looking
completely helpless, the 30,000 fans on hand turned their attention away from
the pitch to give a standing ovation to an athlete truly worthy of every
As if there wasn’t even a match going on, the entire stadium rose
to applaud Paralympic gold medalist Noam Gershony when his presence was
So desperately depressing had been the national team’s
performance that even the blue-and- white faithful, who inexplicably still attend
Israel’s matches en masse, had lost all interest and hope with still almost half
of the game to be played.
Some Israel players had the audacity to
criticize the supporters for not coming out to back the team in recent days,
failing to comprehend that it is their lackluster and slapdash displays over the
last few years that have alienated local fans to an extent that they avoid the
national team’s matches even when handed a free ticket.
Even though his
team looked totally lost throughout its four friendly matches since he took
charge at the beginning of the year, coach Eli Gutman continuously built up the
expectations of fans, insisting Israel could reach the World Cup in
It didn’t take long to discover that Gutman’s words were no more
than wishful thinking, with the team continuing its disastrous play in its first
“I can only apologize for the team’s performance against
Russia,” a shocked Gutman said after Tuesday’s humiliation. “I have been through
enough in soccer that had I thought I was incapable of guiding the team I would
have said it right here.
“We have hit rock bottom and we need to rise
Gutman is a coach known for his methodical approach and
tactical preparation, but he lost his head over the last week.
five changes to the starting lineup against Russia from Friday’s 1-1 draw
against Azerbaijan, using 19 different players during both
Gutman essentially tried everything he could think of as you
would expect from someone who had no clue of what really needs to be
But Gutman should not shoulder all of the blame, or even most of
It is the players who fail the nation, fans and themselves time and
again, playing with a carelessness that used to frustrate, but has long reached
the level that it simply infuriates.
“Our goal is now to end the group in
third position, which is our true place,” said captain Yossi Benayoun, just a
week after he hyped up the team’s chances of qualifying for Brazil.
is impossible to qualify for the World Cup when you lose a home game like
“We entered the match believing we could do it, but at the end of
the day you have to perform on the pitch to win and that didn’t
With disillusionment the dominant emotion in the aftermath of
the Russia debacle, it would be foolish to set the national team any tangible
The only goal at the moment should be to renew the hope in the
heart of those supporters who still care.
Those fans that, despite
everything, still showed up at Ramat Gan on Tuesday night and in their
desperation were left to salute a true sporting hero sitting in the stands while
the team they came to see embarrassingly capitulated on the pitch.