(photo credit: Associated Press)
After a frustrating start to the season marred by injury, Lior Refaelov is finally hitting his stride.
The 27-year-old Israel midfielder missed two months of action due to an ankle injury, but has finally returned to Club Brugge’s starting lineup over the past month, helping the team in closing down Standard Liege in the battle for the Belgian league title.
Refaelov has found the back of the net twice in his team’s last four matches after failing to score until that stage this season, with Sunday’s 5-2 victory over OH Leuven bringing second-place Brugge within seven points of Liege.
Brugge hosts Liege, led by Israeli coach Guy Luzon, in a crunch showdown on Sunday, and Refaelov is hoping his team can continue to close the gap on first place ahead of the business end of the season.
Refaelov began his footballing career with Maccabi Haifa in 2004.
After starring for the club for seven years and winning three championships, Refaelov joined Brugge in the summer of 2011 in a deal worth 2.5 million euros.
Refaelov has impressed at times in Brugge, but has yet to win a title in Belgium, a drought he is determined to end this season: “The truth is, I started the season really well with the previous manager and then I had bad luck when new coach Michel Preud’homme arrived,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
“After 2-3 matches, I got injured and was out for two months after my surgery.
When I returned I had to rebuild my body strength which was tough.
“My relationship with the new manager is really good. I am really happy working with him and I have learned a lot from him. You can even say I changed my footballing style under him. The team has been very successful since he arrived.”
What has it been like playing professional football in Belgium? “The league here is very competitive.
Every year 4-5 clubs battle it out for the championship which I believe is very good for the league. I am really happy I got the chance to sign with Club Brugge. The club has a great history, wonderful tradition and a lot of supportive fans. I am really happy to be with this club.”
How special to you is it that your club is battling Standard Liege for first place in the league? “The system here makes things very competitive in the playoffs. After 30 matches the points are cut in half, it makes things very interesting and then there are 10 matches to play once the playoffs begin.
“What Guy [Luzon] is doing at Standard is amazing. He has been incredibly successful.
We are in second place and trying to catch them. People in Israel don’t realize how amazing Guy’s accomplishments have been in Belgium. They have been able to pick up points even when they don’t play well and that’s what has made their season so special. The people in Belgium love the playoffs because everything is possible so it’s going to be a very exciting time for our fans.”
The Israel national team was drawn on Sunday to face Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, Wales, Cyprus and Andorra in Group B of Euro 2016 qualifying. The qualifiers don’t start until September, but Refaelov was named in the squad for next week’s international friendly against Slovakia in Netanya and continues to dream of one day playing for the blue-and-white in a major tournament: “In this upcoming Euro they changed the system, and now a team that comes in third place makes the play-offs. This new rule makes it more likely for Israel to qualify for the European Championships,” explained Refaelov. “In most of the recent campaigns we have come in third place so this helps. If we can finish in the first two places that would be a great accomplishment but even if we finish in third place we will still have a chance to qualify. It is my dream to play for the national team in a Euro or World Cup.”
You are in the prime time of your career, what are your goals? “The truth is right now I am focused on the present, because I believe that winning a title is something that is so special and it goes down in history.
My target right now is to win a championship with Club Brugge. As I said earlier, everything is open regarding the title and for me winning a championship with Brugge is all I am thinking about right now.”