Germany 4, Israel 2 in buildup to Word Cup (not a typo)

Let’s return to the green pitch in Berlin. Long months of preparations end with a short, sharp whistle. In the next minutes we are under attack. Germans are coming in waves, with their white adidas shirts and the intimidating eagle logo. They attack from the left, center, and it seems mainly right, which is my position. We hardly pass the halfway line. Each of our kicks finds its way to some tall, efficient German writer. In the 25th minute my mistake releases Ralf Bönt to a one-on-one with our defender Amichai Shalev. Shalev crushes Bönt like a fly, and the referee points to the white spot.

Two minutes later our defense opens its legs again, and Moritz Rinke heads in from the goal line. A few minutes later Shalev contacts another German leg in the area, and a second penalty, by Daniel Simmons in the 43rd minute, makes it 3:0 at halftime. Germans don’t miss penalties. Never. I remember asking one of our players, “Who said soccer was fun?”

A few months earlier it was looking nicer. We held our first practice sessions and started to form the squad. The question “who is a writer” came up more than once and eventually we decided that publishing a book under your name—fiction, nonfiction or poetry—will entitle you an entry to the team. The Aroma Espresso Bar chain offered sponsorship and appointed a manager who took care of practice grounds, outfits and the like.

He also became the second goalkeeper and almost played. Tal Benaya, a former professional player who published a novel, agreed to be the coach. He came to two practices but then became too busy. We went our separate ways as friends. The last thing he told me before he left was, “This little fellow is your best. He’s fantastic.” He was talking about playwright Lior Garty. His prophecy will be realized.

We started with biweekly sessions and went up to twice a week, but up to the very end we repressed the fact that the matter at hand is a real football match, meaning 11 v. 11, over 90 minutes, on a big pitch, with studs and all. One of our poets suggested the team name Sofrim Golim (which has a double meaning: “Counting goals” and “authors in exile”). Another player, a comics writer, designed our logo and our shirts.

One of our key midfielders, author of four nonfiction sports books, broke two fingers. The biographer of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin joined. And our new coach shouted at us after his first session, “You are not a team of authors, you’re a bunch of illiterates!”

Back to halftime in Berlin. The rage and the shock. The coach was screaming. The captain is silent. He is not making a passionate speech about fighting a war for our pride. Someone else fills the vacuum and asks us to win the second half. Coach makes a change in the team and strengthens the defense. But in the 50th minute it’s already 4:0. Bönt kicks from 16 meters, the ball hits a defender’s stretched leg and bounces inside.

Buried? No way! Not Israel’s writers. Fresh winds are blowing. The Germans retreat. Our defense gives everything and closes the area. The forwards begin to create chances. The few Israeli fans in the stands wave the flag and shout.

German writer Bönt reached out to Israel to expand the Writers’ League beyond Europe. The friendly took place with assistance from German football authorities and the Foreign Ministry. “It is actually amazing,” Bönt said, “that writers play football so gladly.” (www.boent.eu)

In the meantime the Germans have finalized the details of the trip: the Deutscher Fußball-Bund and Foreign Ministry confirmed the funding for the trip, and the German Foreign Minister will grace us with his presence. In March the Germans traveled to Saudi Arabia and lost 1:5 to a team of journalists. I met them in the Leipzig book fair two days later and saw them play.

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