World Cup memories: 2014 final from Gaza-Israel border

Israel's large-scale operation against Gaza terror groups overshadowed - but not diminished – the soccer experience of border communities under fire

The summer of 2014 was a very dramatic one in the Gaza border area.
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  • Following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, Israel launched its biggest and fiercest military operation in years: targeting Hamas and the Islamic Jihad groups entrenched in the Gaza Strip.
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    IDF troops leaving Gaza at the end of the 2014 war
    IDF troops leaving Gaza at the end of the 2014 war
    IDF troops leaving Gaza in 2014
    (Photo: Reuters)
    As the fighting raged, residents of the so-called "Gaza Envelope” – Israeli communities close to the Strip - found themselves on the receiving end of massive rocket volleys and spent most of their summer in bomb shelters.
    July 13 was different, however. The people of Or Haner, a small kibbutz close to the Gaza border, prepared for the World Cup final: Germany vs Argentina.
    It had a special significance for them. The kibbutz was established in 1957 by Argentinian Jews and most of its residents still have a strong connection with the Southern American nation.
    Ironically, its neighbor, Kibbutz Bror Hayil is Brazilian-oriented and the semi-finals that year saw a rare combination where both teams played: Brazil, the hosts of the tournament, played against Germany and suffered one of the most stinging defeats in the history of the World Cup, if not in Brazilian soccer history: Germany steamrolled it 7:1
    In the other game, Argentina overcame the Netherlands, losing finalists four years before, in a penalty shootout to reach its first World Cup final since 1990.
    Or Haner residents recall that while they were cheering, they could also hear the silent shame in Bror Hayil.
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    גרמניה והגביע ב-2014
    גרמניה והגביע ב-2014
    German national soccer team lifts the World Cup in 2014
    (Photo: Getty Images)
    I was a young journalist, only a year in my role. And though the war occupied the news desk and left almost no room for other stories, I was determined to cover the final in Or Haner. We arrived at the Kibbutz around 19:30 and conducted a few interviews. The people there were very passionate about the game, and were not very concerned about the situation in the south.
    "We’ve lived in this tough reality for 14 years on and off," one of the residents said. "The World Cup, however, is something that happens once in four years, so we must find a way to combine the two." The atmosphere there was unique.
    The houses were open to everyone who wished to come over, and we could see some special guests arriving to watch the game and support the locals. Among them was outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid, then finance minister.
    We also bumped into famous illusionist and performer Uri Geller who provided an interesting answer when asked about his ability to sway the game with his psychic power. "I'm a very spiritual person, I believe in psychic power and prayer, but I'm not a miracle maker," he said.
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    אורי גלר מכופף כפיות
    אורי גלר מכופף כפיות
    Uri Geller
    (Photo: AP)
    The match started with a surprising goal to Argentina, which was ruled offside a few seconds later. The game entered extra time after the first goalless 90 minutes. It ended in a small 1:0 to Germany after Mario Gotze slotted the winner home in the 113th minute.
    It wasn’t the best final I've seen, not even a good game, as far as I’m concerned. But the atmosphere and the hospitality of the resident of Or Haner made it one of the most special experiences I have ever had since I started following soccer.
    When we drove back home, I thought about this unbelievable scene - here we were, a collection of strangers sitting together, watching a soccer game with rockets liable to hit us any second. Striving for normality with death ever-lurking.
    Perhaps that's the story of this country.

    Reprinted with permission from i24NEWS.
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