The Battlin’ Blue and White

It’s a miracle: In a remarkably civilized game in which both English and Israeli fans behaved themselves admirably, the Israeli national team held off the English national team to a zero-all draw last night in the Ramat Gan stadium.

This is huge.

For those of you who don’t understand that football (what Americans call soccer) generates more passion than religion and politics combined, just think of the football hooligans and the violence that often erupts after international games.

The British police have become such experts that they actually sent a contingent of special officers here to check out stadium security and brief their Israeli counterparts. They also now automatically revoke passports of any British citizen involved in football violence, thus keeping them from being this kind of anti-ambassador throughout Europe.

In fact, such was the effort to keep things civilized that some of the British fans, and members of the English national team, visited Yad vaShem to better understand us and our history while paying their respects.

But the game. First, the frenzied media coverage kept the game at the top of every newscast for 48 hours before. Once the game started, even if a spacecraft had landed on the Knesset, I think the news readers would still have led off with an excited score update.

Consider that we aren’t great. No, really. In basketball, we are one of the strongest contenders in Europe. But in football, we are very weak. Of course, the irony is that this is a country where football is a thousand times more important than basketball. So here we are, facing the English national team, perhaps one of the strongest in Europe, and we held them off.

Did I say ‘we’? Let’s just say that Dudu Awat, our goalie, worked like a madman to keep the English team scoreless. Since they are so much better than us, they completely dominated the game, controlling the ball, keeping the action where they wanted, and taking more shots. (And did I mention that one of our key players was injured?)

So that is the situation this morning. Our hopes of progressing in the 2008 championships are still alive. Our national pride is intact. Our security people can heave a sigh of relief. Even those drunken English fans, wandering shirtless and painted through Tel Aviv, look quite colorful and entertaining.

Of course, the pregame traffic was so horrible that I arrived late to a training session in Tel Aviv; it was so bad that I actually hopped out of the car about a kilometer from the venue and trotted the rest of the way, leaving Gill to navigate the snarled streets. But no worries. The Blue & White is still alive!

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