A WARM off-field welcome from Australia’s Jewish community, a strong on-field presence, an accidental bloodied nose and a pledge to contribute his best for his team and inspire young Jewish footballers marked an eventful first month in the A-League for new Wellington Phoenix signing, Israeli international Tomer Hemed.
After completing hotel quarantine and pre-season training with the Phoenix in their new temporary home of Wollongong, the 33-year-old striker – who has scored 17 goals for Israel and previously played in Spain’s La Liga and the English Premier League – became the first Israeli to play in the A-League on January 2 when the Phoenix hosted defending champions Sydney FC at WIN Stadium in driving rain in the opening round.
Although Wellington lost that match 1-2 due to being starved of the football, Hemed impressed Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay enough when subbed on after 50 minutes to earn selection as a starter in their round two away match against newcomers Macarthur FC last Saturday.
This time the Phoenix dominated from kick-off, and Hemed found his feet as the first half went on, using his height, presence and experience to latch onto some passes and trouble the Macarthur defence.
Unfortunately Hemed was involved in an accidental head clash with a Macarthur defender in the 43rd minute that caused a deep cut above his nose.
To his credit, Hemed played on after receiving treatment and was unlucky not to score in the 49th minute when he spotted Socceroo keeper Adam Federici out of position and opportunistically made a long distance shot that only just missed.
But his cut reopened minutes later, ending his involvement in the match, which finished a 1-1 draw.
Phoenix’s next game is on January 24 against Newcastle Jets.
Hemed told The AJN that he, his wife and three children are excited to be in Australia and already feel at home.
“I got a very warm welcome from the Jewish community – people from Sydney, Melbourne and New Zealand sent me a lot of nice messages . . . and even challah and wine.
“I also went to a [Sydney] synagogue and met a lot of people. So I felt very good from the first days that I came to the club, and I want to take the opportunity to say thanks.
“I’ve heard about the Maccabi [football] clubs in Australia . . . and I’m keen to meet and mentor young Jewish players at those clubs – it will be nice for me.”
On the A-League, Hemed said playing Sydney FC “was the best game that I could have got for my debut in this league, against the champions”.
“We’ve never had an Israeli player here, so I’m really excited to wear that and to see how I’m doing,” he added.
“It’s a different style of football, so I think game by game I will get used to it.
“I want to score as many goals as I can and to create chances – that’s why the club brought me here.”