Hapoel Tel Aviv striker Itay Shechter insists that his unique celebration wearing a kippah after scoring the Israeli team's third goal in the 3-2 victory over Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League play-off was not a provocation.
Shechter said that putting on the red kippa with Hapoel's emblem was a premeditated act.
He explained: “A Hapoel fan at the airport gave me the kippah and I thought to myself I'll put it in my sock and if God let's me score I'll put it on and say Shema Yisrael. I was not thinking about provoking anybody, I was only thinking about how happy all the Jewish people at home would be watching the game on TV.”
Hapoel manager Eli Guttman said: “I don't have a problem with Christian players who cross themselves after they score so why shouldn't Shechter pray the way he wants to.”
Shechter was booked by the Portuguese referee for putting on the kippah. Hapoel have not indicated whether they will appeal the booking.
The JC can reveal that the kippah was given to Shechter by Moshe Zinger, a 60-year-old religious Hapoel fan who travelled to Salzburg despite suffering from cancer. He said: "Seeing Hapoel win and Shechter put on the kippah gave me such a lift that I reckon if they checked me now they would find I am healthy."
Hapoel have now ordered 20,000 similar small red knitted kippot with the team's emblem on and plan to give them out to fans at next Tuesday night's second leg match.