The captain of Israel’s national football team announced his resignation from the squad Sunday evening, hours after he was given a 12-month suspension as punishment for tearing off his captain’s armband during a vital qualifying championship game that Israel lost.
Eran Zahavi made his announcement in a statement posted to his Instagram account.
The IFA suspended Zahavi from the team after the Saturday game because his actions were considered unsporting. On Sunday the IFA said the ban was to last for a year and that the player would never be allowed to captain the team again.
“I made a mistake and I apologize,” Zahavi wrote. “I have decided to be true to myself and what I feel to be correct. It is important to me that you know that I always gave my all to the team, I want to announce my resignation from the team.
“At the end of the day, I am a person who has feelings, who takes things to heart, who is offended, and also sometimes makes mistakes, as we all do,” he said. “After a long day of deliberation, and conversations with my family and people who have been with me throughout my career, I want to spare you all the committees, the punditry, the [newspaper] columns and court martials that everyone is giving me.
Israel had been heavily favored to win, but couldn’t find its way to the back of the net for 90 minutes, with Macedonia striker Goran Pandev’s goal in the 73rd minute proving to be the game’s decider. With the loss went any hope Israel had of qualifying for the 2018 Word Cup in Russia.
The loss was the latest in Israel’s lackluster group qualifying effort and the frustration was visible toward the end of the game, as booing rang out through the Haifa stadium, in response to which Zahavi tore off his armband and threw it in anger.
At a post-game press conference, Zahavi said booing by the home crowd had added to his frustration.
“For 40 years we haven’t made it to the World Cup. Forty without advancing. When I heard the booing, my heart exploded,” he said.
Israel’s only appearance at the World Cup was in 1970. With the loss, the team missed a chance to move within four points of second-place Italy and not has virtually no chance of qualifying.
Israel will face off against Italy on Tuesday in Reggio Emilia, before finishing up against visiting Liechtenstein and hosting powerhouse Spain in Jerusalem in early October.
The Hebrew-language news site Ynet reported that Tomer Hemed is expected to captain the team against Italy.
In a statement Saturday, IFA chair Ofer Eini said that “a soccer player, and certainly a team captain, must deal with every situation and maintain the team’s honor when a handful of fans decides to whistle their contempt and tease. The Israeli squad and the values of honor and sportsmanship are always more important than any result on the grass.”
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev panned Zahavi for setting a bad example to Israeli youth.
“Every player on the pitch is a role model for Israeli children who we are striving to educate first and foremost with tolerance and against violence,” Regev said.
In June 2016 Zahavi signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with the Chinese club Guangzhou R&F for a contract worth $12.5 million.
Zahavi also gets a bonus of some $20,000 for every goal he scores for the Chinese team.
The former Maccabi Tel Aviv star is the second Israeli player to compete in China. Liron Zarko was the first player to head to China, joining Chongqing Lifan in 2009.
By Stuart Winer
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