Israel captain banned for tearing off armband in World Cup defeat, quits national team
Unfancied Macedonia prevailed 1-0 in Haifa, a result that leaves Israel 4th in Europe’s Group E having lost their last three World Cup qualifying games.
As boos from home fans rang round the stadium, tempers on the pitch bubbled over, and Zahavi ripped his armband off and threw it to the ground in frustration.
“For 40 years we haven’t made it to the World Cup. Forty without advancing. When I heard the booing, my heart exploded,” Zahavi told reporters in the post-match press conference, the Times of Israel reported.
Eran Zahavi: We haven't made a big tournament in 40 years & it looks like we won't make another in 40 years. Strong words from Zahavi. pic.twitter.com/oqOjpDoZ4r— Raphael Gellar (@Raphael_Gellar) September 2, 2017
Following the incident, the Israel Football Association (IFA) handed Zahavi a 12-month ban for unsporting behavior and stripped him of the national team captaincy indefinitely.
In response, Zahavi announced he was quitting the national team.
“I made a mistake and I apologize,” Zahavi wrote in Hebrew on his Instagram account.
“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.
“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.”
In a statement Saturday, IFA chair Ofer Eini said “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.”
Israel’s sole appearance in the World Cup finals was in Brazil in 1970. With their latest defeat, the team lost the chance to move within four points of second-place Italy, whom they play Tuesday.
The chances of Israel qualifying for Russia 2018 look slim, with just 9 points gained so far from a possible 21.
In 2016 former Israeli president Shimon Peres appointed Zahavi as his country's Ambassador For Peace In Sport.
The player plays his club football for Guangzhou R&F FC in the Chinese Super League on a $12.5 million contract that includes a bonus of $20,000 for every goal scored.