I am sure I cannot be the only one waking up the day after the World Cup Final wondering how I am going to get used to life post-The World Cup. While the tournament may not have mesmerised us with fantastic free-flowing football, this one-of-a-kind sporting drama did have me pretty much glued to the television set over the entire month as I doggedly kept up with as many games as possible. With it being shown on terrestrial here in Israel, I was luckily able to follow the games as I sat at home as either worked away or studied for my final Hebrew exam (unfortunately all my newly learnt Hebrew football terminology was not needed)
This was not my first time viewing the World Cup from foreign lands. Previous tournaments were far away in Bolivia, Peru and Brazil – ‘stuck’ in Rio de Janeiro whilst Brazil dumped England out of the 2002 World Cup being a particularly memorable experience.
Unsurprisingly perhaps Israeli enthusiasm here for the beautiful game dwindles somewhat to what I’ve experienced back in England and Latin America. Of course it never helped that the Israeli national team failed yet again to qualify for the World Cup; their only appearance on the world stage came in 1970 where they failed to pass the group stages despite stoic draws against Sweden and Italy no less.
Nevertheless, my initial fear that the World Cup would pass this country by proved unfounded as the general enthusiasm for the tournament grew and grew over the month. It dominated television coverage, with bars all over Jerusalem doing their utmost to fit in large screens in nook and cranny available to them. With most of the games in the late afternoon and evening, sitting outside in the 25° evening heat with a few cold beers to hand border on near perfection.
Still, without their own team or any other friendly nations to get behind it was hardly ever going to reach the fever-pitch of excitement. I would have thought that many of Israel’s large immigrant groups would be making a scene of it, but no – especially with no Russia in the tournament, Israel’s largest immigrant group by far. Instead the Israelis got behind the traditional Latin American glory sides of Brazil and Argentina, with the various large Anglo-speaking communities here in Jerusalem getting behind their respective nations – and as an England fan, how short lived and dull an experience that turned out to be.
It’s a shame Israel was not in South Africa this year. I can’t say I would have been passionately supporting them as I do with my other home nations (England, Denmark and Argentina) but surely it would have been healthy for this country to finally have something positive to unite around. Nowadays the only time Israelis seem to become truly united behind their country are during the dark moments of war or when embroiled in yet another international diplomatic crisis. The Flotilla episode was only the latest incident of Israelis blindingly supporting their country out of a sense of nationalistic duty. Also the Israeli football seems to be one of the few remaining arenas in Israeli life that attempts to bring together Israeli Jews and Arabs together with numerous Arab players having stared in the national team alongside their Jewish teammates. Let’s cross our fingers for Brazil 2014 then…