Pantsil helps show there is more to life in Israel

What was most impressive about Pantsil waving the Israeli flag was the purity of his intentions.

By JEREMY LAST
June 18, 2006 23:57
3 minute read.
Pantsil helps show there is more to life in Israel

John Pantsil 298.88. (photo credit: AP)

 
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This World Cup has thrown up its fair share of surprises - the ease with which Ecuador has managed to qualify for the second round, Australia's amazing comeback against Japan, and of course, Ghana's 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic. When Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan fired the African side into the lead after just 70 seconds on Saturday it was enough of a surprise.

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But one thing few people expected was to see an Israeli flag waved straight at the television camera by one of the Ghanaian players celebrating the goal. Hapoel Tel Aviv's John Pantsil didn't stop there. At the end of the game he proudly paraded around the pitch holding the blue-and-white flag in the air. Pantsil is one of three Israel-based players in the Ghana squad, but the only one to have played a significant part in the Black Stars' success (Ashdod 'keeper Sammy Adjei has yet to make an appearance and Hapoel Kfar Saba's Emmanuel Pappoe only played the first half of the loss to Italy). His celebration was clearly planned in advance (he appeared to have kept the flag hidden in his sock) and was hoping for an opportunity to show the world how much he cares about and loves the country he lives and works in. What was most impressive about what Pantsil did was the purity of his intentions. Explaining his actions the defender told one Israeli sports Website: "I love the fans in Israel. I have played at Hapoel and Maccabi Tel Aviv and the fans always made me happy so I wanted to make them happy." That was it. Pure and simple. Too often Israeli soccer is directly connected with politics. When the national team or an Israeli club plays abroad, there can be protests against the situation in the territories, as seen before the game against Ireland last year. But at last we have an ambassador for Israel who doesn't care about politics. The flag waving spoke volumes about Israeli football and this country. Israel is seen by many people as a dangerous and controversial country - the last place you would decide to move to for work. But sports is different. The Israeli Premier League is packed with foreign players, many of whom have lived in the country for many years. Some don't settle in, such as Betar Jerusalem's Spanish striker David Aganzo, who left after a few months. But more often than not they fall in love with the country, and especially the passionate Israeli fans. And, like Pantsil, when many foreign players leave the club they originally came to play for, they move to another within Israel and stay here for a significant amount of time. Croatian Giovani Rosso has been in Israel for the last 10 years. He first came to play for Hapoel Beersheba in 1996 and has since played for four other teams, including Hapoel Haifa, Betar Jerusalem, Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Tel Aviv. It's the same in basketball. Maccabi Tel Aviv captain Derrick Sharp has been in Israel so long he even manages to slip in a few words of Hebrew here and there during interviews with Israeli TV. And former Maccabi star Sarunas Jasikevicius may have moved on to bigger and better things at the NBA's Indiana Pacers, but he is one of the many foreign sports players to find love with an Israeli girl (his just happens to be ex-Miss World Linor Abergil) and was back in the country a few weeks ago to cheer on his former club in its championship game. There's no doubt that Israel is a state fraught with controversy and problems. But on Saturday, one Ghanaian showed the whole world there is more to life here. jeremylast@yahoo.com

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