(photo credit: Rafi Daloya/Jerusalem Post archives)
Legendary Israel goalkeeper Ya'akov Hodorov passed away Sunday morning at the age of 79. Hodorov, who played for the national team 31 times, suffered a stroke earlier in the year and had struggled with his health ever since.
Hodorov was the first goalkeeper to play for the national team and was awarded with the Israel Prize in 2006. He will be especially remembered for his heroic performances against the Soviet Union in the Olympic qualifiers in 1956 and in the 2-1 away win against Yugoslavia in 1960.
"A winner is someone who will fight to win, even if he is playing in a game with friends in the neighborhood or in a training match," Hodorov said in one of his final interviews before the stroke. "When I was the goalkeeper on the national team, I knew that the spectators had come not only to see me, but also to see us win the game and that's why I felt as if I was sent out there by the crowd.
"When we would lose, I would stay at home and eat ice cream to calm myself down. Nowadays, when a team loses, they all go out to the pub to have a good time."
Hodorov was chosen as one of the five best goalkeepers in the world in 1957 after his remarkable display against Wales in which, despite breaking his nose and dislocating his shoulder, he was still Israel's best player on the field.
"Ya'akov Hodorov was the childhood hero of many of us and was one of the greatest sportsmen Israel has ever known," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday. "He was a humble man and a great patriot and the Israeli government mourns his death."
Hodorov began his career in his hometown of Rishon Lezion, but peaked as 'keeper of Hapoel Tel Aviv. He led the team to the league title in 1957 and to a State Cup in 1961 before leaving for second division Hapoel Ramat Gan, which he guided to immediate promotion and a league championship the subsequent season.
"Hapoel Tel Aviv mourns the passing of the legendary goalkeeper and the father of the club, Ya'akov Hodorov, whose name was synonymous with the side," read an official statement from Hapoel.
"Hodorov's defense of the Israel goal symbolized for many the heroic struggle of the young country in its battle for survival in its early years. Every child in Israel aspired to be like him and everybody regarded him as a David fighting Goliath," was the way the board of the Israel Prize chose to explain their choice of the 'keeper.
"Hodorov was a giant," Israel Football Association chairman Itzhak "Itche" Menahem, who played with the 'keeper at Hapoel Tel Aviv, said on Sunday. "I was honored to play with him and to win a championship and a cup with him. People always spoke of him as a legend and he really was one. For me, he was the greatest Israeli goalkeeper ever."
Hilyer Linde, who faced Hodorov as a South Africa player in the Maccabiah and for Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe) when Israel toured southern Africa, told The Jerusalem Post of the deep impression he was left with by the Israeli 'keeper.
"He was the most wonderful player and probably the best goalkeeper I've ever played against," Linde said. "At that stage, he was thought by many to be the best goalkeeper in the world."