Ghanaian soccer player proud of Israel connection

Ghanaian soccer player John Pentsil celebrates a World Cup victory by waving an Israeli flag.The national Israel soccer team may not have qualified for the World Cup, but an Israeli presence is being felt anyway. Ghanaian soccer player John Pantsil …

Ghanaian soccer player John Pentsil celebrates a World Cup victory by waving an Israeli flag.The national Israel soccer team may not have qualified for the World Cup, but an Israeli presence is being felt anyway. Ghanaian soccer player John Pantsil celebrated the goals scored by his teammates against the Czech Republic at the World Cup over the weekend by waving the Israeli flag at the stadium in Cologne.

Pantsil, who plays for Hapoel Tel Aviv, is one of three Ghana international squad members who play for Israeli soccer teams.

“I love your country,” Pantsil told Israeli reporters after the game. “You’ve done everything for me, and thanks to you I made it to the World Cup.

“I have played at Hapoel and Maccabi Tel Aviv and the fans always made me happy so I wanted to make them happy.”

According to media reports, Pantsil apparently kept the flag tucked away into his sock during the match. In the past, Pentsil has displayed both the Ghanaian and Israeli flags during soccer matches, most recently after Hapoel won the Israeli Cup.

Israel failed to make the World Cup after finishing third in its European qualifying group.

Ghana beat the Czech Republic 2-0, increasing the chances the African team will be the first from that continent to qualify to the next round in the quadrennial soccer tournament.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Hapoel Tel Aviv sources disclosed later that Pantsil had promised to perform the act if his team scored in the World Cup.

Following criticism and complains from the Arab world, Ghana’s Football Association this week apologized for the flag-waving.

“It was an action out of naivete, and we apologize to anyone who was offended. It will never happen again,” Ghana FA spokesman Randy Abbey said. “He was obviously unaware of the implications of what he did… He’s extremely popular in Israel, and he wanted to thank the fans who traveled to see him play.”

Sports Minister Ophir Pines-Paz praised Paintsil for his actions, saying that Ghana had gained many Israeli fans.

“We have an Israeli at the World Cup. Pantsil’s gesture has warmed our hearts and many Israelis have now become supporters of Ghana,” Paz told Ha’aretz

Pantsil, a member of the Ghana Under-21 side that reached the FIFA World Youth Championship final in Argentina in 2001, joined Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC in 2002 and won the Israeli title and reached the Israeli Cup in his first season. He moved over to Hapoel Tel Aviv in 2004.

Pantsil is one of three Israel-based players in the Ghana squad, but the only one to have played a significant part in the Black Stars’ success (Ashdod ‘keeper Sammy Adjei has yet to make an appearance and Hapoel Kfar Saba’s Emmanuel Pappoe only played the first half of the loss to Italy).

According to Jerusalem Post sports editor Jeremy Last, the Israeli Premier League is packed with foreign players, many of whom have lived in the country for many years.

Last wrote that “More often than not they fall in love with the country, and especially the passionate Israeli fans. And, like Pantsil, when many foreign players leave the club they originally came to play for, they move to another within Israel and stay here for a significant amount of time.”

Based on Pantsil’s display of affection for his adopted country, it’s likely that the mutual love affair between the soccer player and his Israeli fans will continue.