Israel midfielder/defender AVI COHEN, who later spent two trail-blazing seasons in England with FC Liverpool and had another in Scotland with Glasgow Rangers later on in the 1980s, made his international debut at the football tournament of the 1976 Summer Olympic Games hosted by Montreal in Canada.
After having lost only at the quarterfinal stage on the unfortunate flip of a coin at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City, the Olympic football squad of ISRAEL was unterstandably most eager to test its mettle at the 1976 edition in Montreal.
Two veterans of the impressive 1970 FIFA World Cup squad were on hand to provide experience, leadership as well as skill. Soviet-born ITZHAK SHUM of FC Hapoel Kfar Saba had been a member of the ’68 Olympic squad and ultimately earned 62 ‘full’ caps and scored seven goals for Israel in his career. Meanwhile, 31-year-old goalkeeper YITZHAK VISSOKER of FC Hapoel Petah Tikvah had distinguished himself at the 1970 World Cup had gave the Israelis an important asset between the sticks in Canada.
Five players from would-be 1977 Israeli domestic champion FC Maccabi Tel Aviv were regulars at the 1976 Summer Olympics for national team trainer DAVID SCHWEITZER including a pair of promising youngsters who would graduate to the top professional ranks in Europe. 19-year-old defender AVI COHEN, who would be selected 59 times and later skipper Israel, generated considerable attention when signed by contemporary English powerhouse FC Liverpool in the summer of 1979. One year later, 23-year-old striker VICKY PERETZ followed in the footsteps of Israel World Cup midfielder GIORA SPIEGEL and joined Racing Club Strasbourg for a pair of seasons.
Israel international striker VICKY PERETZ of second division side Stade Rennes (right) scored 17 goals in 33 games during the 1982-83 campaign in what proved to be the 30-year-old’s last term in French football; Peretz had finished among the top dozen scorers in the first division in both of his seasons with Racing Club Strasbourg, for whom he totaled 27 goals on 71 appearances, previously.
Partnering Peretz in the attack was 24-year-old striker GIDEON DAMTI of FC Shimshon Tel Aviv, already well on his way to scoring 17 goals from his 55 international appearances for Israel. 23-year-old striker EHUD BEN TOVIM of FC Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv, who was capped exactly twice in his career, would be the only one of fifteen field players in the Israeli Olympic squad to not appear in a match at the ’76 Montreal Games. In the summer of 1978, Tovim would again cross the Atlantic Ocean to sign with the Oakland Stompers of the North American Soccer League and join one-time Borussia Moenchengladbach sweeper SHMUEL ROSENTHAL, the veteran of Israel’s 1968 Olympic Games and 1970 World Cup squads.
21-year-old RIFAAT “Jimmy” TURK of FC Hapoel Tel Aviv did get in two games at the 1976 Summer Olympics and, in doing so, became the first Arab-Israeli to appear in competition for the national football team of Israel; the midfielder later went on to total 30 caps and three goals over the course of his career.