It was a long and rough 24-hours for The Sports Rabbi between last Tuesday and Wednesday night. However sometimes those are the moments in time when we get to see what one is made of and how the gap has closed between nations.
On Tuesday night I witnessed a disappointing 2:1 Maccabi Tel Aviv loss in Malta against the city of Paola sensations Hibernians FC. The following evening I saw a 3:0 Israel Under-19 Women go down to defeat to Sweden in Lod.
On the one hand losing is never, ever, ever fun and Israel U-19 coach Guy Azouri said just that. But there is always a silver lining and he was very pleased with the way the young women performed against one of the best countries in the world. Just two years ago, the U-17 side was whitewashed and outclassed by this same nation 8:0, so to play tough and keep up with Sweden is a moral victory in every way, shape and form. The gap is closing echoed the Swedish coach Calle Barrling as he heaped praise on Israel and the steps that the Israel Football Association is making.
In Lod last night we got to see a celebration of soccer being played at its purest form. We got to see a wonderful and exuberant crowd cheering the Blue-and-White on. We got to see young women giving it their most for their country and leaving it all on the field of play. We got to see how little by little Israel is taking women’s sports seriously and investing in that area.
We also saw how the Israeli players are so proud of the fact that they can go toe to toe with the best and represent the country in the best way that they can. Starting striker Lauren Goetzman echoed just that saying that Sweden didn’t know that they would play them as tough as they did and that Israel has a ton of pride and will leave it all on the field. Israel will have two more group matches against France on Saturday night and next Tuesday when they face Denmark.
Going back to Tuesday night I could see the same happening on the quaint island country of Malta. Maccabi Tel Aviv acting captain Gal Alberman spoke prior to the club’s match and clearly said that the gap has started to close between clubs in Europe. This unfortunately turned out to be a self fulfilling prophecy as the semi-pro players of Hibernians took the game to Maccabi and came away with a shocking 2:1 victory. The gap has certainly closed.
Was it a case of Hibernians being the better team than Maccabi? Did they come and play with more passion? Well certainly on this evening that is what happened. The Yellow-and-Blue Head Coach Slavisa Jokanovic said that Hibernians played better than Maccabi did and played with more passion and ambition, therefore deserved to win the match. The likes of Andrew Cohen, Jackson De Lima and Jorginho played the best they may have ever played knowing that this was their chance to shine under their big lights in front of their home crowd.
Maccabi will have the exact same opportunity tonight when they play Hibernians, but this time in front of their rocking 12K plus supporters at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv. We all must remember that the two legs are a total of 180 minutes and perhaps more. We’ve only seen the first half of this show. The second half is yet to come and I have no doubt that Maccabi will show their true qualities and continue towards the goals that they have set for themselves.