It is not just on the football field that Ben Sahar impresses with his speed of movement. If his performance in Tuesday's press conference is any indication, the young Israel striker is pretty swift in the verbal stakes also.
Facing the press in the Abe Lenstra stadium to which he will return for Wednesday evening's Group A contest with Belgium, Sahar spoke with a confidence belying his 17 years. Asked by one reporter about being the focus of attention, the youngest player at the finals replied: "I am not the one placing myself in the spotlight - it is you who do that." To another who said he was the only Israel player the Belgian media had heard of, his response was equally sharp: "It is good that they know only me because then they don't know the other players. That is good for us, maybe."
This assuredness should not surprise us given Sahar's progress down football's fast track. Since joining Chelsea FC in May 2006 from Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC, he has found the net on his Israel Under-21 debut, become the senior team's youngest-ever scorer and even prompted a proposed change in law – 'Sahar's Bill' - exempting high-achieving young sportsmen from military service. Small wonder he sounded unfazed when asked about the responsibility of spearheading Israel's attack in this UEFA European Under-21 Championship. "I am here to do what I can do, without any pressure."
Aim to win
Despite limping out of Sunday's 1-0 loss to the Netherlands with a twisted knee, Sahar is expected to start a match where victory is essential if Israel are to retain realistic hope of a semi-final place. After champing at the bit for first-team football at Chelsea last season – he made five brief substitute appearances – he does not want to miss out here. "Every footballer dreams of going out to play in front of a big crowd and this is the chance for me to show I can be at this level," he said. "What I want for tomorrow is just to win, I don't care if I score," he added. "We are coming here to win, you've seen we are capable of that and this is what we are concentrating on."
Call for support
The tournament's youngest player, Sahar added that he is surprised by the criticism directed at Israel - playing in their first UEFA U21 finals - following their defeat by the Dutch. "We are in the top eight in Europe and we just lost one game. I wonder what is happening now in Italy. Holland lost the first match of their campaign last season and they still won it. I don't understand the extent of the criticism – we need support, not criticism. You have to understand that in the first game we conceded [an early] goal and the Dutch with the motivation that gave them and their support, out of instinct that led to us sitting back. We know we have to win this game and hopefully some of the other players will help me."
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