A soccer pitch, or any sporting arena for that matter, is supposed to be a place where dreams are realized.
However, in the 84th minute of Sunday night’s 2-2 draw between Maccabi Haifa and Bnei Yehuda, Kiryat Eliezer Stadium turned into the theater of nightmares.
A vicious and malicious twolegged lunge by Haifa’s Ruben Rayos ended Bnei Yehuda’s Rafi Dahan’s season and may well have derailed his career for good.
Players and staff from both teams, as well as many of those watching from the stands and on TV, grabbed their heads in horror at the sight of Dahan’s knee twisting in a grisly manner.
Dahan lay on the pitch almost motionless for several minutes until he was taken to an ambulance, where he was given an oxygen mask to help him breath and recover from the shock of the gruesome incident.
An MRI test on Monday confirmed Dahan’s worst fears after it revealed that he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Dahan, who moved to Bnei Yehuda on a loan deal from Maccabi Tel Aviv in January, is set to be out injured for a minimum of six months and will miss the start of next season as well as the rest of this season.
“I couldn’t sleep all night. I was given morphine and spent all night thinking of what happened,” said an emotional Dahan after exiting the MRI. “Only God will punish Rayos. There is no forgiveness for what he did. I don’t know if he will be suspended for eight matches or 20 or 30. I don’t care and whatever it might be it doesn’t help me.
“This won’t break me and I’m sure that I will come back stronger,” added Dahan, who is due to get married in two weeks.
Rayos flew to Spain on Monday for a prearranged holiday as he was already suspended for this coming weekend’s match against Hapoel Ramat Hasharon.
The Spaniard will face an Israel Football Association disciplinary committee next Wednesday, with the IFA prosecutor to seek an additional eight-match ban to the automatic one-game suspension he will receive for the red card he was shown.
Should Rayos be handed a ninematch suspension he will only be available for Haifa’s final game of the campaign.
The Spaniard apologized in front of the cameras after the match on Sunday and also posted a message on his Facebook page on Monday.
“I want to publicly apologize to Rafi Dahan. A move during the match has ended in the worst possible way,” the message read. “In my career I have never been in a similar situation, I didn’t mean to hurt him.
I will contact Rafi to apologize, I am very upset.”
Whether you believe Rayos or not, he is the villain of the episode. However, some of the reactions by Dahan’s teammates and other Israeli players were, to put it mildly, distasteful.
“I wish you all the bad in the world and hope you will never walk again,” wrote Bnei Yehuda’s Amir Agajev on his Facebook page.
“Ruben Rayos is a criminal, he should never be allowed to step on a pitch again,” posted Dahan’s teammate Oz Raly.
Dudu Biton, who plays for Spanish second division side Alcorcon, took it one step further and demanded on Twitter that Rayos be deported from Israel, before deleting the tweet and conceding that he had perhaps gone overboard because Dahan is like a little brother to him.
Such is the outrage towards Rayos that he may well not even want to return to Haifa for the two remaining years on his contract knowing how players from other teams feel towards him.
The fact that he is a foreign player rather than a local one made it all the more easier to attack his actions in unprecedented fashion, amplified by 21st century technology and social networks.
Maccabi Haifa players released a statement wishing Dahan well and condemning Rayos’s misdeed, but said they will continue to stick by the Spaniard’s side as teammates should before calling on their colleagues to tone down their remarks and attacks.
Haifa defender Dekel Keinan also said what many others were thinking when he wrote on Twitter: “You can’t help but think that the reaction would have been different had the offender been a local player.”
Nevertheless, as lengthy as Rayos’s suspension may ultimately be, he will back plying his trade at the start of next season, at the very latest, whether at Haifa or abroad.
Dahan, on the other hand, will be sitting at home with many months of excruciating rehabilitation ahead of him wondering what he did to deserve this.
That is the underlying truth that cannot be escaped regardless of the angle from which you approach this incident.
Whether it was a premeditated assault or a rush of blood to the head, Rayos will always have to live with the damage he caused on Sunday.
There is no need, however, to feel sorry for the Spaniard, whose career will eventually continue almost unaffected.
Dahan, who is considering filing a civil lawsuit against Rayos, is the one who may well never be the same player again and could have lost his livelihood for good. His lifelong dream of being a professional player was possibly snatched away by a moment of madness and it is he who will forever be haunted by what might have been.