by Contributing Author
Just like in almost every other country in the world, in Israel soccer rules king when it comes to being the most popular sport in the country. While Israel and its competitive soccer tournaments have not been on the radars of soccer betting picks experts as much as other countries and their respective leagues, certain Israeli teams like Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa FC have managed to still put on a very respectable run both domestically and internationally throughout the years.
Also, there have been some players that even coming from a country with not as rich of soccer history and heritage, has managed to still put up very illustrious careers. To pay homage to some of these players, here we bring you the stories of the three most important Israeli soccer players to date.
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It’s only fitting that we start this list with a player, deemed by fans and experts as “The King” of Israeli football, Eli Ohana. It has been said that Ohana even caught the eye of one Diego Maradona, who called him the best Israeli football player he ever saw on the pitch. Ohana, who is originally of Moroccan origins, was born in Jerusalem, where while still being a child joined the ranks of Beitar Jerusalem, the city’s most important soccer club, where he went on to become a legend of the team.
After establishing himself as a fixture in Beitar’s senior team, Ohana first saw international action after joining Australian team Sydney City in 1986, only lasting for five official games. It was after that when he joined Belgian squad KV Mechelen where his career truly took off. While playing for Mechelen Ohana established himself as one of the best up-and-coming youth talents in European football and continued with his career as an attacking midfielder and forward playing for Portuguese squad Braga before returning to Beitar to finish off his career. With Israel’s national team, Ohana capped 51 games while scoring 17 goals in 13 years. Nowadays, Ohana is the chairman of his beloved Beitar Jerusalem.
Mordechai “Motaleh” Spiegler is considered by soccer experts and analysts as the most important player in the history of Israeli soccer. Born in the USSR, Spiegler moved as a young boy to Netanya with his family and it was there, with the local Maccabi Netanya team that his career began and propelled him to become not just a local but also an international soccer star, playing for clubs like Paris FC, PSG, and NY Cosmos internationally, where he even got the chance to play alongside Brazilian legend Pelé.
While his club career is remembered by Israeli fans all around, it was what he did with Israel’s senior national team that put him up in the status of national sporting legend. With Spiegler on the pitch, Israel managed to win the AFC Asian Cup in 1964 as well as being captain for Israel’s Olympic soccer team in the 1968 Olympics, leading the team to the quarter-finals of the tournament. To top off his national team accolades, he was a pivotal part in taking Israel to their only World Cup appearance in 1970, where he scored his team’s only goal in the competition.
When Israeli soccer fans think of a player that made a lasting impression in the English Premier League, the most competitive soccer league in the world, their minds usually go to former Liverpool and Chelsea player Yossi Benayoun, but before him, there was former West Ham United and Manchester City midfield prodigy Eyal Berkovic. Born in Regba in 1972, Berkovic started his professional career at Maccabi Haifa from 1989 to 1996 before starting his journey through the English and Scottish Premier League.
Some of his best moments were lived while playing for West Ham United, where he was a fan favorite from the get-go. Consequential moves to Scottish powerhouse Celtic, followed by a spell at Manchester City and Portsmouth would help Berkovic become one of the most remembered Israeli players to play in Europe, with different coaches and teammates always praising Berkovic’s abilities and skills playing midfield. With the Israeli national team, he formed a marvelous trio at midfield with former teammates Avi Nimni and Haim Revivo throughout the ’90s and early 2000s.