ISRAEL V RUSSIA
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.
Israel’s Omer Golan ( right) celebrates his goal against Russia