Tuesday, June 16, 2009

16 June 1927 - The Real Hebrew Hammer

On 16 June 1927, Yaakov Hodorov was born in Rishon LeZion, Palestine. Remembered as one of the best goalkeepers of his generation, he played for the Israeli national team from 1949 to 1964.

Hodorov began his professional career in 1942 at the age of 15 with his hometown club Maccabi Rishon LeZion, but moved after a couple of years to local rival Hapoel Rishon LeZion. In 1947, he moved again, this time to Hapoel Tel Aviv, where he spent the majority of his club career and won his first major honors - the Israeli league championship in 1957 and the Israeli cup in 1960.

One of Hodorov's most memorable matches was a World Cup qualifier against Wales on 5 February 1958. At the time, Israel was playing in the Asian Football Confederation and almost qualified for the 1958 World Cup without playing a match. Israel's first scheduled opponent was Turkey, who refused to compete in the Asian group, allowing Israel to advance. Israel's opponent in the second round, Indonesia, withdrew from qualification after FIFA rejected their request to play Israel on neutral ground. Israel was then scheduled to play Sudan in the third round, but the Sudanese refused to play.

Israel would have qualified automatically, but FIFA ruled that, apart from the hosts and the defending champions, no team could qualify without playing a match and thus drew Wales for a special playoff against Israel. After Wales won the first leg 2-0 in Israel, the teams met in Cardiff on 5 February 1958. Wales again won 2-0, but Hodorov drew high praise for making several outstanding saves and playing after suffering a broken nose in a collision with Welsh striker John Charles.

Hadorov reportedly received numerous offers to play for European clubs including Arsenal, Dundee United, and Fenerbahçe, but chose to play his entire career in Israel.

In 2006, the Israeli government awarded him the Israel Prize for excellence and contribution to sports. He had a stroke shortly before the presentation ceremony, however, and was unable to attend. He died on 31 December 2006 at the age of 79.

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