Local World Cup fans choose a new 'home'

Despite Israel's absence, passion for the tournament reaches a fevered pitch.

world cup 2006 logo 88 (photo credit: )
world cup 2006 logo 88
(photo credit: )
Despite Israel's failure to qualify for the World Cup, the passion for the tournament is reaching a fevered pitch. In a country that has made just one World Cup appearance, part of this excitement involves adopting another country's squad for the duration of the tournament. While the practice of getting behind another country is common, the identities of these teams vary as much as the reasons for choosing them. Since immigrants comprise such a large percentage of the county's population, one of the primary reasons people support one squad over another is an ancestral connection to a specific country. For 16-year-old Emanuel Abetaw, the decision to support the Ivory Coast - a team that many have picked as a sleeper - was based on his ethnicity. "I am black, and I hope that the Ivory Coast becomes the first African country to win," Abetaw said. After Cameroon reached the quarterfinals in 1990 and Senegal in 2002, Abetaw hopes that the Ivory Coast will bring glory to the African continent. For Israelis that do not draw upon their roots to support a specific squad, the most popular team is five-time World Cup champion Brazil. However, each person has a unique reason for supporting Brazil. For 40-year-old Avi Salama of Jerusalem, the love of Brazilian football started when he watched Pele as a child and has enjoyed that style of football ever since. Although he is from a different generation, 23-year-old Oren Swisa of Jerusalem has a very similar story about how he got on the Brazilian bandwagon. He said that his love affair with Brazilian football started when he watched them win the 1994 World Cup. For younger fans, it might be the triumph at the 2002 World Cup, the numerous international superstars or the rich heritage that attract them to Brazil. However, other fans use similar reasons to justify support of other countries. 29-year-old Cobi Carmeli of Aviel has supported Argentina since watching Diego Maradona lead them to the title in 1986. While working in Holland in 1978, K.G. Dayananda of Sri Lanka, who currently works in Jerusalem, experienced Holland's loss to West Germany in the finals firsthand and has not forgotten that moment. For Dov Geudj, 17, of Jerusalem, the great players on France, such as Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry, stirred him to back Les Bleus. However, other soccer fans base their decisions on factors unrelated to what happens on the pitch. Maram Sakhnini, 21, of Daburiya has followed Germany's team since his early childhood because he believes the Germans are "elegant and smart people." Cobi Rada, 23, of Jerusalem prefers the Italian side. "I love the people, their mentality, and the culture," he said. Still, others back teams based on the kits. David Lachmish, 22, of Ramat Gan roots for The Netherlands simply because of their famous orange jerseys. Despite the various reasons that people have for choosing one side or another, the one constant is the enthusiasm people have for the World Cup. And until Israel qualifies for another World Cup, this ritual of finding reasons to justify support for another team will continue.