Israeli soccer star Eran Zahavi gave fans of Guangzhou R&F a glimpse of possible brilliance to come during his debut match in the Chinese Super League on Saturday.
The 29-year-old striker, who only come onto the pitch as a second-half substitute, headed in his team’s second goal of the match in the 75th minute, and racked up two assists to lead Guangzhou to a 4-2 victory against Shijiazhuang Everbright.
The Israeli national team captain last week signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with the Chinese club for a contract worth $12.5 million in total.
In addition, Zahavi gets a bonus of some $20,000 for every goal he scores for the Chinese team — a potential money spinner as the player led the Israeli Premier League in goal-scoring in the past three years. Last season, his 35-goal tally broke a 61-year-old record in Israel.
Following his debut, the Chinese media were filled with praise for Zahavi, Hebrew-language news website Walla reported. Dragan Stojković, the Israeli star’s new coach, called his 40-minute performance “perfect.”
“He just stunned us. The substitutes in the second half changed the game completely,” Walla quoted the coach as saying. “We knew of him before the match. We knew there was a chance he would play for a few minutes and we had some idea of his movements on the field, but we were unaware of his great skill. There’s no doubt we were surprised. We did not expect anything like this.”
After the game, Zahavi struck a professional tone, putting the emphasis on the victory of his new club rather than his own success.
“I’m happy to help the team,” he said. “It’s nice that I scored, but what is most important is that we won — that’s the most important thing in soccer. I hope we’ll continue to be in such form, because I want to see the team advance to the top of the league table.
“Slowly,” Zahavi concluded, “I hope to get into shape. For me it is early in the season and it will take me some time to get into the swing of things.”
Zahavi’s new team is currently hovering around the middle of the league table.
The former Maccabi Tel Aviv star is the second Israeli player to compete in China. Liron Zarko was the first player to head to China, joining Chongqing Lifan in 2009.
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