Argentina’s soccer fans are missing the most popular sport in the country, under a total lockdown that bans sports events.
So when a popular Argentinian Jewish player scored a goal in Israel this weekend, local fans paid attention.
Eial Strahman is a local hero in Córdoba, a province of 3.5 million people north of the capital of Buenos Aires. In 2016 he led the Talleres de Córdoba soccer club to a championship in its division — and a promotion to the country’s premier league. His five goals in the championship game earned him the nickname “Strahman the Superhero,” and he was feted when he left Talleres the following year.
Strahman is also Jewish with extensive connections to Israel, and he recently joined Sektzia Ness Tziona, a soccer club in southern Israel. That means that he is able to play soccer while most of his former teammates cannot.
Right now, Argentina has banned all sporting events in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus there, and a nationwide lockdown was just extended until at least June 7. But in Israel, which was hit earlier in the pandemic and now is lifting most restrictions, soccer games are set to resume June 1, though without fans in the stadiums.
Just six minutes into his Sektzia Ness Tziona’s friendly match against Hapoel Tel-Aviv on Friday, Strahman scored a goal.
The goal was notable because it was the first goal scored by a player associated with Argentina’s premier league since the pandemic began. The most-read paper in Córdoba, La Voz, interviewed Strahman and published a video of the goal.
It was also notable because of Strahman’s connections to Israel. He began playing soccer in Macabi Noar, a Jewish community club in Córdoba, and represented Argentina in the 2005 Maccabiah Games in Israel, losing the final to the Israeli team.
In 2009, he was called to represent Israel in the under-21 team in a European qualifier but his club at that time, River Plate, refused to authorize him. But his international career included a stint with Maccabi Haifa in 2009-2010 before returning to Talleres in 2015.
Strahman’s father, Julio, lived in Israel from 1975 to 1985. The player often speaks about his Judaism and has a tattoo in Hebrew on his back with the initial letters of the names of his four brothers.
“It was my first game, because when I arrived everything was suspended. I am happy. I can consider myself privileged to be able to play again, in such difficult moments,” Strahman said in an interview. He said that players were being tested for the coronavirus frequently but that practices were totally normal.