ëãåøâìIT’S NOT often you hear the manager of an Israeli football team firstly talking about his team competing in an international tournament, and secondly saying how he thinks they could reach the semi-finals. But that is what Eli Ochana, the manager of their U19 team has said as he gets set to lead the first ever Israel team at a UEFA U19 Championships. If they can avoid finishing bottom of Group A, they’ll book themselves a place at next year’s U20 World Cup, though Ochana has set his sights relatively high. Described by Diego Maradona as the “one great Israeli player” after Argentina beat Israel 7-2 in a friendly in 1983, he took charge of the senior team as a caretaker manager in 2010, guiding them to a 2-0 friendly win over Romania. That win saw rumours abound that he would take the role full-time, but he said in an interview his time was yet to come. Should he take this side into the last four, and even further, then there will be no doubt his time has arrived.

ONE OF the greatest sportsmen, never mind basketball players, of all time, will visit Israel on 4 September when he attends the inauguration ceremony of a new multi-purpose sports arena in Jerusalem’s Malha neighbourhood. Earvin “Magic” Johnson Jr’s visit was initiated by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, together with the Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Consulate in New York, and the trip will include an exhibition match between a team of 10 present and retired basketball stars against Hapoel Jerusalem. And if that wasn’t enough, the NBA stars’ visit to Israel will also include performances by leading international artists.

STILL GOING strong in the swimming pool, veteran swimmer Susan Halter has helped herself to another couple of gold medals. Competing at last weekend’s Barnet Copthall Masters in the 85-89 age group, she emerged victorious in the 100 and 200m backstroke events.