Steve Leibowitz
Steve Leibowitz

Israeli football teams take on the world — Part 6

Game day in Miami and the anticipation for the start of play was over, as 20 men and women’s teams from all over the world were ready to take the field. But it was anything but smooth. It would not be right to blame hosts from USA Football who had only days to prepare the venue and all the other logistics after the decision to move the tournament from the Bahamas.

The biggest problem was the erratic weather in Southern Florida. While most of the Greater Miami area was sunny, the skies opened up on Brian Piccolo Park in Hollywood leaving the field a soggy mess. Early games not involving Israel were played in a downpour, and by the time the Israeli men took the field against Panama at 11 a.m. the field was a muddy mess.

Panama has a strong team and placed in the final eight in the last world championship. Israel started strong taking a 22-6 lead by half time. But a “pick 6” thrown by Chaim Schiff put the Panamanians back in the game. The offense completely stalled while Panama clawed its way back into contention. Israel had fourth and goal from the one with a chance to clinch the victory with a minute left, but Gideon Reiss could not hold onto a pass in the end zone. Panama managed to score in the waning seconds and Israel suffered a demoralizing 25-21 defeat.

The Israeli team headed back to the hotel to lick their wounds and prepare for a 17:00 game when they would play New Zealand and the same hour the women would take the field for the first time against Denmark.

Then came the bitter news that the fields were declared unplayable and team directors were summoned to LOC (local organizing committee) headquarters to discuss what would be done.

Fears mounted in the Israeli camp because we do not play on Shabbat and schedule changes could mean an overloaded scheduled or possible forfeits. When I arrived at the meeting, tournament director Mikael Roos called me aside for a private chat. A decent man who I have known for years, Roos wanted to assure me that whatever happens, Team Israel would not be asked to play on Shabbat.

The changes were multi-faceted. Games would resume at the park with a revised schedule on two field deemed playable. All Friday games would move to a different facility with artificial turf and a revised schedule be followed with games beginning earlier.

At 17:00 both Israeli teams took the field. The women took on the vastly improved team from Denmark. The Israel women fell behind 7-0 but stormed back to take a 20-7 lead. There were some nervous moments after Denmark cut the lead to 20-14. The defense held and Team Israel held on for the victory.

The men bounced back from the loss against Panama to score a convincing 39-12 victory over New Zealand.

Only minutes after the final whistle Israel took the field against world champion Team USA. If there was one team in the tournament that Israel “can not beat” it’s the Americans. They has not lost a game in four years and they were the odds on favorite not to lose a game at this tournament. Fighting in the first half like David against Goliath, Israel led from the opening whistle, built a 21-14 halftime lead and refused to let up. Twenty year veteran QB Chaim Schiff was on fire hitting Dani Eastman and David Abelle almost at will. Israel scored with only 1:47 left to lead 34-21. But then came the collapse. The US cut the gap to 34-28 with only 1:20 remaining. They stopped the Israeli attack, got the ball back and scored again with :30 remaining and took a 35-34 lead which they held till the final whistle.

So the women are 1-0 with three games remaining today in todays group stage. The men “should of and would of and could of” been 3-0 but instead they are 1-2 with two games remaining.

Sitting here writing at 5:30 for 6:30 departure for the field. Hoping for wins and a sweet and restful Shabbat.image image image image image image image

About the Author
Steve Leibowitz is a veteran journalist who moved from the U.S. to Israel in 1974. He is the president of American Football in Israel and the director of Kraft Family Stadium.