A glorious victory for HaPoel Tel Aviv last night in Salzburg, Austria, as the Israeli champions passed their biggest test yet with flying colors, defeating Red Bull Salzburg 3-2. I was thrilled that Fox Soccer had it on, albeit at 2:00 in the morning, but the wonders of DVR had me watching the game this morning at breakfast.
The Israeli champions scored early on a penalty kick in the first minute of play, and then spent the next ninety minutes demonstrating their dominance over an Austrian side that had been expected to win on their home pitch. The highlight of the evening? After a clean breakaway and confident finish into the corner of the net, HaPoel striker Itai Schechter reached into his shin pad, pulled out a red-and-white HaPoel kippah, put it on, and did a celebration in which he said the Shema in the middle of the field. (Watch the clip here.) While he received a yellow card for using a prop to celebrate, the sight of Schechter, kippah-clad in the Austrian evening, celebrating amongst his teammates, was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while.
HaPoel will be coming back to Tel Aviv for the second leg next Tuesday, where they can clinch their advancement into the UEFA Champions League with a win, a tie, or even a loss. Israels are passionate about their soccer, and no matter which club they root for during the season, they will unite behind HaPoel next week as they seek to advance. Last year, Salzburg wilted in the humidity and fell 3-0 to Maccabi Haifa in this stage in the game played in Israel; the odds appear to be quite good that the same thing will happen this year and HaPolel will be playing in Europe this fall. I don’t know the broadcast time for the game next week, but Fox Soccer should have it on again.
UPDATE: You can catch the return leg on Wednesday, August 25, at 9:00 AM on Fox Soccer. It’s not a live broadcast so don’t check the result before you watch.