The Israel National Team will get back onto the pitch in European Championship qualifying when they face Kosovo in the first of four games this coming month. The blue-and-white did not play their two game that had been slated for October due to the war against Hamas and will now not only have to ready for a quartet of matches but they will also need to host their home games in Hungary.
The head coach Alon Hazan has called up a large group of players due to having to have to play four contests in 9 days as a group of 31 will be prepared to represent Israel during these challenging and trying times.
One of those players is Neta Lavi, who has been playing for Gamba Osaka in Japan after having featured for Maccabi Haifa making close to 200 appearances for the Greens. The midfielder, who was released by his club team and will be able to play in all four games including the first pair at Kosovo on Sunday and against Switzerland in Felcsut on Wednesday looked ahead to the mission at hand. He spoke what it truly means to be a hero, playing home games in Hungary and about the importance of having come back home before heading out to Europe ahead of the games.
“It is important for me to be in Israel before we head out to Europe in order to just smell the air and appreciate what we have here. We are in a country with heroic people thanks to whom we are that is what that it was important for me to come. I was in Europe when it happened and it wasn’t easy, I was just waiting to get to Israel and I was counting the days until I could land back in the country. It’s good for me to have this symbol, that of the Israel National Team on my jersey and to understand what our nation is going through.”
Lavi spoke about who the real heroes in his eyes are, “My grandparents immigrated from Poland after World War II and throughout the years my grandmother was always there for us showing so much strength despite everything she went through. Throughout my career, I had the privilege and gift of making children and adults smile, I never thought I was some kind of hero. I came from a family that grew up on stories of heroism, so I never thought I was a hero
“Head coach Alon Hazan always says that we have a gift, one that can bring a smile to as many people as possible. We are not heroes, we are here for the country. The men and women who are fighting for the nation are our heroes, the rescue forces are the heroes and we are here to do everything possible – for me it is marginal, but we will do everything we can to put a smile on the faces of our nation.”
The 27-year old along with his blue-and-white teammates have been in constant contact since Hamas attacked the communities around the Gaza Periphery on October 7th.
“We have been in daily contact with the national team for more than a month, everyone is doing something, but the mobilizing the Israeli soccer players to go out and do something for our people in Israel is huge. There are a lot of players who every day are trying to do everything they can to give some sort of joy to the people and we talk about it all the time on WhatsApp – we have been waiting to be together with our flag and anthem. We are simply counting the days, hours and minutes to be together and our motivation is huge, but we have to play the actual games and we are aware of that. The team has been sending us things on WhatsApp for us to be able to prepare professionally and I’m sure that these two things together will help us do our job.”
Lavi team have been understanding about the tough situation that he is in and also explained the experience he is having abroad in Asia compared to what other players may be facing in Europe, “My club in Japan has been in contact with me and while Japan is a bit far from here the players have supported me a lot and I also tried to explain what was happening. In Europe it is different, the reality is not easy – being Jewish in Europe is for anyone, certainly for a well-known footballer not easy. This is a reality that we must battle against and we are trying, but there is no doubt that there are unpleasant feelings. That’s why it’s important to come here to Israel because we appreciate where we are and what we have.”
The goal is to advance to this coming summer’s Euros being held in Germany and knows what he along with the rest of his teammates will be trying to accomplish, “We will do everything that we can to give the people a reason to smile just a bit. We are about to go on a journey where we have to be there for everyone and not the other way around. Of course, we would like to be playing in Bloomfield in front of 30K fans, but now we will do everything to push the country.”