What a game, what a fight ... what a year that was

By Danny Caro, December 23, 2009
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The 18th Maccabiah Games was undoubtedly the highlight of the Jewish sporting calender in 2009. American Olympic swimmer Jason Lezak was the star attraction in Israel but the 500-plus Team GB delegation enjoyed their best-ever medal return with boy wonder Richard Goodman, 16, the most successful individual athlete in the pack after coming home with double gold. He has had a magnificent year, culminating in helping the Great Britain juniors win gold at the European Cross Country Championships and looks destined for big things.

Our footballers and squash players also excelled. The Open men’s team came desperately close to winning their first gold for more than 40 years, coming out second best to Argentina on penalties. Guy Morris was my standout player of the competition.

The Over 45 Masters took gold after beating Israel in an epic final. Laurence Swerner finished with the golden boot after grabbing six goals.

The rugby team won many fans with their style, finesse and power. Fly-half Sam Katz was the star man and the only disappointment was the side’s failure to win gold .

It’s also been a prosperous year for Israel’s tennis stars. The country reached its first semi-final in the Davis Cup, losing to eventual winners Spain.

Dudi Sela, a key member of the team, reached a career high of 29th in the ATP rankings. After getting to the fourth round at Wimbledon, he finished 43.

Shahar Peer has endured an up-and-down 12 months, but she won two titles and finished in the top 30.

It has been a hugely disappointing period for Israeli football as the national team missed a golden opportunity to reach the World Cup finals in South Africa, slipping up twice against Latvia and eventually finished fourth with Greece and Switzerland eventually going through. The failure resulted in the sacking of manager Dror Kashtan. Eyal Berkovic is favourite to take over.

At club level, Maccabi Haifa won the Israeli Premier Division. The Greens reached the Champions League, only to be drawn in the Group of Death alongside former winners Juventus, Bayern Munich and Bordeaux where they became the first team to fail to muster a single goal or point in the group phase.

Hapoel Tel Aviv have been the surprise package in the Europa League, finishing top of their group.

One man who has not disappointed is Israel captain Yossi Benayoun. The highlight of his year was a Premier League hat-trick against Burnley.

In another first for Israeli sport, basketball star Omri Casspi joined the big time after being snapped up by the Sacramento Kings in the NBA.

In boxing, Yuri Foreman became the WBA Super Welterweight Champion in November after defeating Daniel Santos on points. By contrast, Dmitriy Salita lasted just 76 seconds as he was knocked down three times by Amir Khan in the WBA Light-Welterweight. Of our top domestic football teams, London Lions endured promotion heartbreak despite finishing runners-up in the Herts Senior County League Premier Division. Having relocated the team to St. Albans City, they have been leading the table for most of the season and hope to clinch a place in the South Midlands League.

MSFL kings North West Neasden won the double after losing just once in 18 games. They were denied the treble when Hendon United A beat them in the JC Cyril Anekstein Cup final.

Highlight of the year: Liverpool’s Yossi Benayoun scoring the winner in the Champions League against Real Madrid at the Berbabeu

You heard it here first: In February, I predicted that Avram Grant would be manager of Portsmouth.

    Last updated: 11:03am, December 23 2009