It’s safe to say that Eran Zahavi will go overlooked in many of the upcoming
end-of-year ceremony awards.
After all, he lacks the charm of Hapoel Tel
Aviv teammate Itai Shechter or the flair of fellow midfielder Gili Vermut,
instead playing a supporting and often ignored role in Eli Gutman’s team
But the past 12 months have seen Zahavi completely transform
his career, becoming the Forrest Gump of Israeli soccer, somehow always finding
himself at the center of the most crucial and memorable moments in Hapoel’s
Exactly one year ago, Zahavi’s career was in
He started just one of Tel Aviv’s first 11 Premier League matches,
with Nemanja Vucicevic keeping him out of the lineup.
There seemed to be
little hope for Zahavi to become a major contributor at Hapoel. But he never
lost faith, believing this was merely another low in the rollercoaster start to
his career and that it was only a matter of time until he made his way to the
Zahavi entered Hapoel’s youth system as a six-year-old, but when the
time came to join the senior squad, he struggled to break into the first team,
leaving him to drop a league and go on loan to Ironi Ramat Hasharon in January
The midfielder spent a season-and-ahalf in the National League,
getting vital playing time and learning his trade from the bottom up.
returned to Tel Aviv ahead of the 2008/09 campaign, but started only nine of the
team’s 33 league matches, and after being left on the bench at the start of the
following season as well, he began wondering if his time to shine at Hapoel
would ever come.
However, a rare vein condition in Vucicevic’s leg
grounded the Serbian a year ago, opening the door for Zahavi.
your chance to prove your worth. Don’t waste it,” Hapoel assistant coach Yossi
Abuksis told Zahavi, and the rest is history.
Zahavi started in every one
of Hapoel’s remaining 23 league matches, not only cementing his place as a key
cog in Gutman’s machine, but also developing the knack of scoring vital goals
which will live forever in Hapoel history.
Tel Aviv entered its final
match of the league campaign on Saturday, May 15, needing a miracle to claim its
first championship since 2000.
Not only did Hapoel have to beat
arch-rival Betar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium, but it also required Maccabi Haifa
to fail to defeat Bnei Yehuda, which had nothing to play for.
with stoppage time looming, both matches were tied at 1-1.
With almost two of the allotted four minutes of added time
already played, Betar goalkeeper Ariel Harush did well to save a shot from
Vermut, only for Zahavi to pounce on the rebound and smash in the goal which
clinched the most dramatic of league championships for Tel Aviv.
goal alone would have been enough to etch Zahavi’s name in Hapoel history books,
but it was only the appetizer.
With Tel Aviv trailing 1-0 from the first
leg of its Champions League third qualifying round tie against Kazakh champion
FK Aktobe last August, Zahavi scored the crucial opener in the return leg at
Bloomfield, giving his side the breakthrough in the eventual 3-2 aggregate
Next up was Austrian champion Red Bull Salzburg.
beating Salzburg 3-2 on the road in the first leg of the final qualifying round,
Hapoel was the odds-on favorite to cruise into the group stage of the Champions
League for the first time in club history.
However, the Austrians took
the lead in the first half at Bloomfield and another goal would have seen them
advance at Tel Aviv’s expense.
Again, Zahavi to the rescue.
two minutes of injury time already played, he received the ball on the edge of
the box before shooting into the bottom left corner with his weaker left foot,
sparking delirium at Bloomfield.
Zahavi’s latest, but certainly not last,
unforgettable strike came last week.
With a match at Olympique Lyon to
end its group campaign coming up, Hapoel knew that its encounter against SL
Benfica at Bloomfield was its last realistic chance of claiming a victory in its
debut season in the Champions League.
Once again, on the biggest stage,
Zahavi stepped up.
He scored the opener in the 24th minute and wrapped up
the 3-0 win in his favorite 92nd minute with another unstoppable effort off his
There seems to be something almost magical about Zahavi’s
Somehow, he possesses the gift of being at the right place at the
right time, but these opportunities don’t fall into everyone’s lap. It is only
those who never give up who get the chances, and Zahavi has made the most of