The British press thinks it has come up with an explanation for Israel’s surprising draw with Wales in Euro 2016 soccer qualifier on Sunday night – witchcraft!
“Call it witchcraft, call it voodoo, call it black magic,” wrote Richard Innes in the Daily Mirror. “Whatever it is, it clearly worked.”
Israel’s Tal Ben Haim jinxing Gareth Bale’s free kick in yesterday’s game.. pic.twitter.com/RvrSaGNaYH— The Football Café (@thefootballcafe) September 7, 2015
“After all, what chance does a humble Welshman stand against ancient Israeli dark magic?” asked JJ Bull in the Telegraph, adding helpfully that the legendary Israeli prowess is “sometimes referred to as ‘The Psyche Out.’”
The references are to a free kick late in the game taken by no less that Wales’ superstar Gareth Bales. To quote Bull: “The Real Madrid forward lined up the shot like he had done so many times in the past, as he had so successfully done in training for all these years, yet when he struck the ball, it flew over the bar.”
Had Bale scored, Wales would have been assured of its first qualification for a major tournament since 1958. In the event, Wales supporters were “left massively frustrated, as Israel somehow found a way of stopping Bale from scoring,” according to the Mirror.
But what precisely had Israel done? Examination of the video evidence soon gave the answer. “Gareth Bale freekick jinxed by Tal Ben Haim witchcraft,” ran the headline in the Telegraph. “Israel’s Tal Ben Haim jinxed Gareth Bale’s free kick with bizarre magical sorcery,” wrote the 101 Goals website.
“Watch Israel’s Tal Ben Haim use football WITCHCRAFT on Wales’ Gareth Bale,” screamed the Mirror.
The video clearly shows Ben Haim making strange hand gestures as Bale ran up to kick the ball, which proceeded to fly over the bar. Was it witchcraft?
Ben Haim isn’t saying, which hasn’t prevented the British press from going to town on the story. “Tal Ben Haim II (not of Chelsea and Portsmouth) managed to jinx the Welshman’s free kick with a piece of strange sorcery,” was the take of Dov Rawson in 101Goals. “Jinx? Curse? Or something completely different?” asked Joe Gallagher in the Bleacher Report.
“We may never know the answer,” wrote the Telegraph’s Bull, “but BenHaim’s legend will live on – as will the curse he placed upon Bale’s freekick.”
Whatever it was, it wouldn’t be the first time that Israeli soccer players have resorted to the supernatural in their search for success.
Ben Sahar famously changed his name – at the suggestion of a rabbi – after being let go by Chelsea and Uri Geller once took credit for saving Reading by calling on his esoteric powers.
Now Ben Haim seems to have kept alive Israel’s hopes of playing in the Euro 2016 tournament. All in a day’s work for an Israeli sorcerer.
As I write this, countless explainer posts are going up online, offering answers to one timely question: Who is Carli Lloyd?
Here are a couple things you may already know:
1) She is the star player of the U.S. World Cup soccer team — she won the Golden Ball as best player of the tournament after her team’s win last night.
2) She scored a hat trick in the FIFA Women’s World Cup final against Japan — and remains only the second person, and first woman, to do so.
3) She scored a goal in every U.S. game in the knockout stage of the Women’s World Cup.
4) In addition to her Golden Ball, Silver Boot and World Cup gold medal, she also has two Olympic gold medals.
5) As far as I can tell (and believe me, I checked) she isn’t Jewish.
Something you may not know? The 32-year-old soccer sensation owes much of her incredible success to one special person: Rudi Klobach, her high school coach — and a Holocaust survivor.
Klobach was born in 1944 in Theresienstadt, his wife Barbara told The New York Times. His father, Karl, was made to bury bodies of fellow Jewish prisoners. After the war, the family moved to Dusseldorf, and then to the U.S. when Rudi was 4.
Over his 20 years as a New Jersey girls’ soccer coach, Klobach was responsible for 256 wins. In 2011, he was named to the South Jersey Soccer Hall of Fame.
But, as the Times story makes clear, no one meant as much to him as midfielder Carli Lloyd from Delran High School, whom he coached from 1997 to 2000. Klobach watched her rise to high school star status, and go on to win two Olympic gold medals. After every win, the Times reports, he would exclaim: “That’s my girl!”
Sadly, he wasn’t there to see her ascend to sports legend during last night’s game. Klobach died in January after a three-year battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“He was never surprised at her success because she had always been so driven,” Barbara Klobach said. “He liked coaching her because she was so serious about the game.Some girls were just there for social hour, but no, not Carli.”
RIP Rudi Klobach. Your girl made you proud.
Jose Pekerman chats with Colombia player as the team prepares to face Brazil in the World Cup. / Getty Images
There’s a joke being told in the bars of Rio about how different national teams tried to curry support. Italy put out a press release that if they won they would give free pizza to everyone. Brazil made an announcement that they would distribute free coffee. And France put out a sultry tv ad saying “cheese and baguettes pour tous!”
The Japanese were about to promise something about sushi when Diego Maradona stands up and starts chanting “Col-om-bia, Col-om-bia!”
Colombia, with a soccer-mad population of over 40 million, has soccer resources other than Maradona’s favorite nose candy. They have one of the world’s best strikers in Radamel Falcao (named apparently by a smurf, but touched by the soccer gods) and one of the world’s most promising youngsters, James (pronounced “ham-es”) Rodriguez.
But their main asset is José Néstor Pékerman Krimen, a Jewish prophet cast out of his native Argentina into the wilderness of Colombia only to effect first the miracle of qualification to the World Cup Finals and now the miracle of reaching the last eight. What other miracles might he work in the next few days?
1. Make the Clown Wig Vanish
For a generation, Colombian soccer has been globally synonymous with the bright yellow of Carlos Valderrama’s perm. This time around the team is more successful and less exuberantly coiffed, perhaps Pekerman can make the specter of Valderrama disappear.
2. Walk on Water
If this guy could do it, Pekerman could. If any man can, Pekerman can.
3. Win Without Falcao
When you have a team built from mostly spare parts of second tier teams, it would have been useful to have an $80 million player who can do this. Falcao was too injured to even join the squad in Brazil. That Pekerman has won without him so far, makes winning without him an achievable miracle but a miracle nonetheless.
4. Silence the Jewish Press
The normally garrulous Jewish and Israeli media have been stumped so far by the focused Pekerman. In the face of the odds he can lead his team into the promised land of the semi finals, in almost complete silence, like the imperturbable lovechild of Joshua ben Nun, Marcelo Bielsa and Harpo Marx.
5. Claim the Golden Boot
Like Belinda the Good Witch, Pekerman can put the ruby slippers (or golden boot) on James Rodriguez. Rodriguez is the tournament’s top scorer at the moment. And though it was Rodriguez who actually put his boot through this and this, (see here) who was it who told him to be there and try?
6. Beat Brazil, in Brazil
Brazil has only lost once in the World Cup in Brazil. That was in 1950 in the final game against Uruguay. Sixty four years on, the country is still reeling from the loss — they have a name for the tragedy, the Maracanazo. Let’s see how soccer-mad the country really is. Can it stay passionate, positive and intense if the over-hyped seleçao get beaten in the quarter finals? It could happen, but it would take a Pekerman miracle.
7. Turn Water Into Wine
If Colombia does beat Brazil, Pekerman will turn water into champagne!
h/t Alejandro Duhalde
Luis Suarez, right, has been banned from the World Cup for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini/Getty Images
In the most dramatic turn of events at the World Cup in Brazil so far, Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez — one of the most talented players of his generation — has been banned from “all football-related activities” for four months for biting the shoulder of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in Uruguay’s June 24 game against Italy.
That means he’ll miss the entire rest of the World Cup.
Here’s why Suarez should use his enforced absence from the beautiful game to join the Chosen People.
As Team USA carries the hopes of the English-speaking world in Brazil, inquiring minds are wondering why England is so perennially terrible at the sport it invented (and let’s not get started on cricket).
It is a question that was surprisingly well answered in 2009, along with the corollary question about how America is getting good at a sport it barely cares about, by Simon Kuper in his book “Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey — and Even Iraq — Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport.”
In this soccer version of “Moneyball,” which he co-wrote with Stefan Szymanski, Kuper explains the success of various club soccer teams as well as national soccer teams through the judicious use of statistics. It explains the opportunity cost of racism in England in the 1970s and 1980s and, as the title suggests, provides a convincing explanation of why England are poor and the USA are destined for greatness.
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