The Friday Interview: Awat finds redemption at Coruna

After being dropped by Deportive earlier in the season, the goalie now leads its fight to survive.

Less than three months ago it seemed as though Dudu Awat had played his last match for Spanish club Deportivo La Coruna. Despite needing eight stitches around his left eye after fellow goalkeeper Gustavo Munua punched him, Awat was inexplicably suspended from the team's squad by Deportivo coach Migual Angel Lotina. Munua attacked Awat during a dispute in the changing room after training on January 11, a day after the 30-year-old Israeli complained at a press conference about losing his place as first-choice keeper to Munua. Lotina, unhappy with Awat's comments and obviously with Munua's reaction, announced that both players would remain on the sidelines for the rest of the season. The coach told the keepers to resolve their differences and ordered them to apologize to team mates and the club's fans for their behavior. Awat, who started every single one of the club's league matches last season, was out of the squad for almost two months, missing six of the team's games. The Israeli would, however, get his redemption against Espanyol at the end of February when, with his job in danger, Lotina turned to him to help the side in its relegation battle. Deportivo had picked up just seven of a possible 18 points while Awat was out and the coach came to the conclusion that playing the Israeli in goal would boost the team's chances of survival, and his own chances of remaining the side's coach. In his first match back Awat kept a clean sheet, helping his team to a 2-0 victory over Espanyol and thus reestablished his place as the side's number one. La Coruna then went on to defeat Sevilla and draw with Valencia, before beating Real Madrid 1-0 two weeks ago. A loss last week to Mallorca means the club is still only two points from the relegation zone, but ever since Awat came back Deportivo's survival hopes seem a whole lot better. "Sometimes in life and in soccer you face unpleasant situations. This was just one of those instances," Awat tells The Jerusalem Post of his ordeal. "The most important thing, however, is that the coach put his faith in me at his lowest point and gave me a chance when the team struggled most. Starting me in goal at such a time proves everything. "I went through a difficult period, but I always believed that I will return to the club and contribute to the team. I'm very happy that everything has returned to the way it was previously. That's really all that matters now." Awat is confident the team will maintain its La Liga status, but is by no means complacent. "The team went through a tough period, recording poor results, and despite doing better recently is still just two points above the relegation zone," he says. "We must build on our recent play if we're to avoid relegation. I'm optimistic about our survival hopes. We must stay in the league. A club like La Coruna can't afford to be relegated." Since regaining promotion to La Liga in 1991, Deportivo has cemented its place as one of Spain's most successful clubs. La Coruna finished among the top three nine times between 1993 and 2004 and won an historic league title in 2000. The team also played in the Champions League for five straight seasons, reaching the semifinals in 2004. Awat, who first made a name for himself winning an Israeli championship with Hapoel Haifa in 1999, joined Deportivo from Racing Santander in 2006 and has built himself a reputation as one of the best goalkeepers in Spain. Awat has two more years on his contract at the Galician club and despite the recent altercation is hoping to stay at La Coruna. "At the moment I'm not thinking of playing at a bigger club. I have two more years on my contract at Deportivo and I want to help the club stay up and play with the team next season as well. I'm enjoying myself very much in Spain and I'm not considering returning to play in Israel." After being in the shadow of Maccabi Haifa goalkeeper Nir Davidovitch for years, Awat has started for the Israel national team whenever available since Dror Kashtan took over from Avraham Grant in the summer of 2006. The keeper was also selected by Kashtan for the friendly match against Romania at the start of February, despite the fact that he wasn't playing for his club. "I was very happy that Kashtan showed his faith in me by playing me, despite the fact that I wasn't starting at La Coruna. I proved myself throughout the previous campaign, but it was still very important to me," Awat says. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa is probably Awat's last chance to play at world soccer's biggest stage and he's hopeful that Israel will end its 40 year drought and finally realize the dream once more. "We believe that we can qualify for the World Cup, but we mustn't forget that we're playing against very good sides like Greece and Switzerland. It's not going to be easy," he says. "Playing in the World Cup is not only a personal dream, but a national dream. The entire country and every one of the national team's fans are fantasizing about South Africa 2010."