The first thing Stav Lemkin did at the beginning of the interview with him was to reassure. "I feel good, I'm improving. The next game will be excellent. I'll play," he says.
The defender finished the match against Uzbekistan with ice on both ankles, bandages on his knees and a slight limp that raised concerns about his fitness. Yesterday, two days before the historic quarter-final against Brazil, Lemkin made it clear that the pain was behind him and the rest of the tournament was ahead of him.
"Everyone here comes to win, we don't come to pass the time. Not in euros, not now, and even later we won't come to pass the time anymore. It won't happen anymore. We really believed in ourselves and we still believe we can win. We will not come to Brazil and because they are Brazil we will cancel and not play. We will try to do everything to win, and whatever happens will be. We will give our 2000 percent. That's for sure."
"It comes from the inside"
What is certain is that Lemkin is one to be listened to. After the dramatic victory over Japan in the eighth final, coach Ofir Haim said that at half-time the 20-year-old defender entered the dressing room, shouted what he shouted and was the one who motivated the players. "I'm very emotional," Lemkin clarifies. "Not just in these things, in everything. You can ask everyone, there's a debate about it that I'm very nervous when needed and that I'm very emotional. It's not something I control. Against Japan, I felt I had to say, I had to shout, I had to get out."
What exactly was there?
"I was yelling that if we don't wake up for our lives in those 45 minutes and start playing and throwing it in the air, that's what I said, then we're home. Tomorrow we are on a flight to Israel, four connections, and if we don't wake up then that's it, the story is over and we just came to pass the time and get one point out of nine. We played well some of the time, and I felt like I had to wake up the players. It came to me from within, not some show. Those who know me know that when I don't have to say anything, I don't say anything. I don't just shout, only when I feel I really need to."
Lemkin celebrates with Senior the dramatic goal against Japan,
Those shouts weren't the only thing Lemkin did against the Japanese. One of the criticisms leveled at him last season was his fear of going forward with the ball and bringing his offensive abilities to the fore. In the 92nd minute, with the team with their backs against the wall and needing a goal, it was he who engineered the king of the winning goal.
Please describe this move to us.
"If you see it again, there was a horn, we went away, and Dor (Turgeman, D.H.) took control of the ball. Then, during a game, I look at the clock in the stadium and I see minute 90. What do I have to lose? We fly. It wasn't like against Uzbekistan that could be extra-time, we're flying. We're home in seven minutes. Suddenly I had the feeling that I had to overtake Feingold, even though I was really finished. I run like that with my head down and pass it without thinking, and then from there it all just came together. I got the ball wide from Senior and the great luck is that I didn't kick. Because if I kicked my left foot it would fly out of the stadium. So luckily I didn't kick because from there Dor did his genius with his heel, by a miracle their shield broke the trap of the differentiator, and Senior did what Senior knows how to do."
Lemkin with Israelov. Complementing each other, photo: AFP
In the opinion of many, Lemkin is one of the Israeli team's best players in the tournament. The compliments he receives cross continents and the interest around him is also growing. "It's a crazy stage for any actor. I feel like I'm playing well, not all the time, because I also make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes here. You can't say that I'm better than Or (Israelov, D.H.) who is just as good as me. You can't say about anyone that he's any less good than anyone else here. I couldn't have done it without Light, without Feingold and without Revivo.
How does your collaboration with Light really work?
"Or and I have been together for years, even though we are in competition in Hapoel and haven't played much together in Hapoel, there is no rivalry between us, there is nothing, we have been good friends for several years. I feel that he completes me. I'm left-handed and he's right-handed, we're both good with the ball, it's the same style of play and I feel like he's exactly my other half. I have a great connection with him. He's the defender I'm most comfortable playing with right now."
Ofir Haim. A special connection with the players, photo: AFP
And what is it like to work under a coach like Ofir Haim?
"He's like a good friend. Suddenly he comes into my room and asks for a protein bar, it's a special connection I didn't think I could have with a coach. It doesn't cross the line either, he knows how to keep it well and we're all 100% connected to him."
Ofir told us that he talks to you about everything, including the friendship. You have a girlfriend, what did you say to her before you flew here?
"I told her that the final was on June 11 and that she wouldn't prepare for us to come back before ... She jokingly told me that she wanted us to lose and come back already, and I got angry. I said, 'What are you going to lose? I told you we weren't coming back before the final.' Now she tells me, 'Don't come back, I don't want to see you until you win.'
Lemkin with the captain's armband in a Hapoel Tel Aviv uniform. Not afraid of responsibility, photo: Alan Shaver
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I met Lemkin tonight (Thursday), two days before the meeting against Brazil. He spent the last few hours analyzing the Brazilian attack and especially the exploits of Marcos Leonardo, Santos' star, but he seemed particularly relaxed and relaxed. "In the previous game when we got past Japan we were much more on the cloud because we came in a tougher position that we had to win. Back then we were euphoric, but today we are already with our heads to Brazil, thinking about Brazil. There's a quarter-final, maybe the most important game for all of us so far."
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