On TA beachfront, disappointment greets Grant's loss

Outside of the beach's roped-in VIP area, fans seemed to have a more uniformly patriotic view of the game's implications.

grant smiles 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
grant smiles 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israeli soccer fans flooded onto the sands of the Heineken Banana Beach in Tel Aviv on Wednesday night to watch the Champions League final. The evening began as hundreds enjoyed the music of hip hop artists Shabak Samech while waiting for the game to begin broadcasting on the massive screen set up on the waterfront. A night that would end in disappointment for many, after Chelsea lost to Manchester United, began with a vibe of optimism that Israeli coach Avraham Grant could lead Chelsea to capture club soccer's biggest trophy. "He's a good manager, a good boss, and a good guy" Liran Strauber, goalie and captain of Maccabi Natanya, said of Grant. Strauber played for Grant at Maccabi Tel Aviv before the coach moved to Maccabi Haifa in 2000. "It's wonderful that a coach from Israel is coaching Chelsea," Strauber noted as he draped a bright blue Chelsea jersey over his baby son's head. "A win for Chelsea would give him a lot of personal pride." Not all who showed up for the match shared Strauber's enthusiasm. "It's just a soccer match and in a few days everyone will forget about it," said Nir, an animator from Tel Aviv. He then commented that he "wished Barcelona would be here instead." Outside of the beach's roped-in VIP area, fans seemed to have a more uniformly patriotic view of the game's implications. "I like Chelsea only because of Avram Grant!" cheered 16-year-old Kobi Keirman, a high school student from Tel Aviv. "If Chelsea loses [Israelis] will be sad and if they win they will be happy all their lives." By midnight Heineken Banana Beach was full of fans and tense with excitement as the two teams headed into the penalty shootout. But the Chelsea fans soon became subdued as both Nicolas Anelka and John Terry missed their penalty shots, securing the victory for Manchester early Thursday morning. As the fans finally began leaving the beach, there was a clear sense of disappointment in the crowd. "I am upset, upset for Chelsea, upset for Avram," said Nir from Rishon Lezion. "I don't think Avram is going to stay another season." Reflecting on the game the next day, former Israeli soccer star and current chairman of the Professional Footballers Association, Avi Cohen, said: "Avram Grant was so close to the cup, only one penalty away, and eventually it all blew up." "I think everyone in Israel, or most of the people in Israel, wanted Chelsea to win because of the connection of Avram Grant, but this is football, and it's very sad." concluded Cohen with a sigh. "I was very disappointed." Looking to the future Cohen added: "But if I was the owner of Chelsea, I would take him for next year, definitely… I think he has the ability to achieve a profit." As the dust settles from this week's historic match-up, there are varying sentiments floating around Israel. But, despite the hype Grant has caused, some fans were motivated by more traditional fare. "I am just here for the beer and the girls," one supporter stated, simply. Edon Ophir contributed to this report.