IS­RAEL V RUS­SIA

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT&ANALYSIS -

Sky Sports 3 Satur­day Novem­ber 17

THIS WASa once-in-a-life­time match for Eng­land fans with dual loy­al­ties — a night when Is­raeli glory was syn­ony­mous with English progress in Euro 2008, a night when even Nor­man Teb­bit him­self could not grum­ble if we An­glo-Jews jumped out of our seats when Is­rael scored.

In the stu­dio with pre­sen­ter Richard Keys were Glenn Hod­dle and Trevor Fran­cis. You could tell they were up for it. Hod­dle was wear­ing a blue and white striped shirt and Fran­cis was pulling for Is­rael from the start: “If Is­rael can get a few balls in the box we’re in with a chance. I say we be­cause we’re all Is­rael fans tonight,” he bab­bled ex­cit­edly.

So over to Tel Aviv and our com­men­tary team Rob Hawthorne and David Platt — a refugee from the Eng­land game in Aus­tria the night be­fore.

While the Is­rael team were do­ing their best to ac­com­mo­date the few Eng­land sup­port­ers in the ground by wear­ing white, the fans were not get­ting in the spirit. Most had not both­ered to turn up, and those who had were mostly Rus­sian — a few even wear­ing half Is­rael, half Rus­sian scarves, re­viv­ing un­easy thoughts of a con­spir­acy be­tween the two na­tions. The cam­era panned around to a rather for­lorn sign claim­ing, “Wel­come to hell”.

Ra­mat Gan was cer­tainly not Hades in the tra­di­tional sense. In­deed, Platty felt it more akin to a “tes­ti­mo­nial at­mos­phere — there’s no noise at all”.

Hawthorne com­mented on the gen­tle tempo to the start. Could it be that the Is­raelis were un­aware or un­both­ered about Eng­land’s im­mi­nent elim­i­na­tion from Euro 2008? Surely not.

By the 10th minute, Elyaniv Barda had swept away Is­raeli non­cha­lance with a goal which stunned the Rus­sians. “What a start this is for Eng­land,” claimed Platty, com­pletely for­get­ting that Eng­land were ac­tu­ally watch­ing on telly at home.

The cam­era cut im­me­di­ately to Ro­man Abramovich in the oli­garch stand look­ing un­usu­ally lugubri­ous. Hawthorne said there had been ru­mours that the Chelsea owner had put the Rus­sian play­ers on £100,000 per man if they could beat the Is­raelis — Abramovich looked like the money was burn­ing a huge hole in his pock­ets. Mean­while, the game stut­tered al­most as much as Platty, with most of the en­ter­tain­ment com­ing from the elec­tronic hoard­ings where Rus­sian Cyril­lic script did bat­tle with He­brew be­hind the touch­line.

Back in the stu­dio at half-time, a con­fused Richard Keys claimed Barda “could go down in English foot­ball his- tory”. Hod­dle was more cau­tious. “It’s a worry when the Rus­sians get the ball down them chan­nels,” he warned with his cus­tom­ary elo­quence. Mean­while, Fran­cis wor­ried that the Is­raeli de­fence didn’t fill him with con­fi­dence.

Hawthorne and Platt were more up­beat in Tel Aviv. “Here comes our hero,” an­nounced Hawthorne as Barda, sport­ing al­most im­pos­si­bly shiny black hair, re-emerged from the tun­nel.

Min­utes later, the com­men­tary team slumped into gloom as Dini­yar Bilyalet­donov equalised, the Is­raeli de­fence liv­ing up to Fran­cis’s billing.

Now, Platty, who had been talk­ing of the “Is­raelis pulling the trig­ger” in the first half, was speak­ing of a “Rus­sian on­slaught”, and Hawthorne re­ferred to “the ad­vanc­ing red army”. It was get­ting near to crunch time for clichés.

As the Rus­sians launched wave af­ter wave of at­tacks (my cliché this time), Platty be­gan to lose con­fi­dence in the Is­raeli keeper and the English lan­guage. “Up to now I’ve been singing Awat’s plau­dits,” an­nounced Platty as Is­rael’s cus­to­dian fum­bled an­other cross.

Ul­ti­mately, Omer Golan’s win­ner sent Is­rael’s play­ers and Eng­land’s fans into dream­land. Sud­denly it was as if we were back in 1967, with Is­rael’s David de­liv­er­ing a stun­ning and un­ex­pected blow to a foot­balling Go­liath.

“Ahugedebtof­grat­i­tudewil­l­be­owed by Eng­land to Is­rael now,” an­nounced Hawthorne at the fi­nal whis­tle. Per­haps the Prince of Wales will soon be trav­el­ling to Jerusalem af­ter all.

PHOTO: AP

Is­rael’s Omer Golan ( right) cel­e­brates his goal against Rus­sia

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