Game of Broken Hearts: Israel’s Emotional Return
The story of little Nave broke Eli Dasa’s heart shortly before kick-off. A jersey with the eight-year-old’s name hung in the locker room right next to the Israeli national team captain’s seat. Placed underneath was a photo of the boy who loves football so much.
Nave was kidnapped along with seven other family members during the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel on October 7. Their house was burned down.
The reality of his homeland caught up with Dasa again before Israel’s 0-1 defeat in the European Championship qualifiers in Kosovo. It was the first game since the attack. “We had tears in our eyes in the locker room,” reported the 30-year-old. “We received videos from soldiers and children. They smiled but told us they no longer had a home where they could watch the game. That broke me.”
Whistles during the anthem
The game on the bumpy pitch in Pristina was perhaps the hardest of Dasa’s career. Sport , Kosovo won 1-0 with a goal from former Bremen player Milot Rashica, completely faded into the background . A day before the game, Dasa and coach Alon Hazan wore military dog tags around their necks. “Our hearts are trapped in Gaza,” it read. As the anthem played, which was accompanied by whistles and boos from the stands, Israel’s players formed half a heart with their hands. A broken heart. Tears flowed.
“When I heard the boos from the crowd, I realized that I’m even more proud to be here,” said Hazan. The game took place under massive security precautions. On the way to the airport , the bus had to stop because of a missile alarm and the players sought shelter on the side of the road. More than 30 secret service employees accompanied the national team, which was only allowed to leave the heavily guarded hotel for the game.
Immediately afterwards we went to Budapest, where Israel will play against Switzerland on Wednesday. Games against Romania and in Andorra follow. Four matches in ten days were scheduled because the October international matches could not be played after the attack. “Everyone here knows someone affected by war. It’s a part of us,” Hazan said.
Players are stuck in the Gaza Strip
There will be no home games for the Palestinian team for security reasons. Australia is welcomed in Kuwait. Even away games have to be postponed. In the United Arab Emirates they play against Lebanon; the game was originally supposed to take place in Beirut. Canceling the meetings is not up for debate.
“It is a people that wants to be heard and seen by the rest of the world. They want to live a normal life like everyone else, that’s why the national team is important,” said Susan Shalabi, vice-president of the Palestinian Football Association.