Our World Cup hope returns…
Colombia coach José Pekerman will be the leading Jewish figure at the World Cup when it kicks off in Moscow next week. In 2014 the grandson of Ukrainian Jews led the country to the quarter finals.
Hugo Meisl, coach of the Austrian Wunderteam that reached the semi-finals in 1934, is remembered for pioneering the ‘total football’ adopted by the great Dutch sides of the 1970s. Meisl died of a heart attack in 1937.
Current Colombia coach Jose Pekerman, 68, arrives in Russia as the second longest serving coach of any national team in South America. His six-year reign in charge of Los Cafeteros includes back-to-back World Cups. He finished the group stages of the 2014 finals with a 100 per cent record, before losing 2-0 to Uruguay in the last 16. Colombia beat France 3-2 in a friendly in March and line up in Group H alongside Poland, Senegal and Japan. Pekerman also led Argentina at the 2006 World Cup where he left a teenage Lionel Messi on the bench.
He also enjoyed a successful spell with the Argentina U20 squad, leading them to World Cup triumphs in 1995, 1997 and 2001.
Alfred Schaffer played for Hungary and later coached them to the 1938 final, where they lost 4-2 to Italy. Schaffer was sent to Dachau, liberated by the Allies, and died after the war.
Edgar Davids played for the Netherlands at the 1998 World Cup. The Surinamese-born midfielder played with trademark protective glasses that his Jewish mother no doubt nagged him to wear.
A number of Jews have represented the USA — centre-back Jeff Agoos gained 134 caps and was in the squad for the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. His sole notable contribution was an own goal. Benny Feilhaber, Jonathan Bornstein, and Jonathan Spector were in the 2010 squad. Kyle Beckerman featured in all three group matches in 2014.
And then there is Mario Balotelli, a key player in Italy’s victory over England in 2014, who was adopted by a Jewish family. His mother is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.
Abraham Klein – considered by many the best referee in the world at the time, officiated in the 1970, 1978 and 1982 World Cups. He did not attend in 1974 as, after the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972, he was considered a target. Refereed his first World Cup match in 1970, aged 36, taking charge of the Brazil v England match, fondly remembered for Bobby Moore’s tackle on Pele. Pele praised Klein for “always having total control of the action”.
Klein denied Argentina a penalty in 1978 in front of their home crowd against Italy. The Argentines consequently banned him from their remaining matches, punished for his scrupulous professionalism in what was considered a scandal.
He featured in the final in 1982 as a linesman and retired in 1984, aged 50.
● Menachem Ashkenazi refereed two matches at the 1966 World Cup, including the quarter-final at Goodison Park in which Eusebio scored four goals as Portugal overcame a 3-0 deficit against North Korea to win 5-3.
Colour photos clockwise from far left: Edgar Davids, Mario Balotelli, Jose Pekerman, referee Abraham Klein with Dino Zoff and Daniel Passarella in 1978