World Cup viewers were confronted with more than one big surprise on Saturday when Ghana defeated the Czech Republic 2-0 in what was perhaps the greatest upset of the tournament so far. The second shocker came when Ghanaian defender John Pantsil pulled an Israeli flag out of his sock during Ghana’s celebrations of its two goals.
The gesture has been greeted by an array of reactions all over the world. While some call Pantsil, a religious Christian, a hero, others say he acted with na?veté and foolishness.
But Pantsil, who isn’t Israeli, told one Israeli sports Web site that his actions were motivated by good-hearted intentions: “I love the fans in Israel. I have played at Hapoel [Haifa] and Maccabi Tel Aviv, and the fans always made me happy so I wanted to make them happy.”
Pantsil is one of three Ghanaian players who play in the Israeli Premier League.
The Ghanaian Football Association issued an apology on Monday in response to outrage in the Arab world caused by Pantsil’s action: “He is obviously unaware of the implications of what he did. He’s unaware of international politics,” Randy Abbey, spokesman of the Ghanaian FA, said at a press conference.
“We apologize to anybody who was offended and we promise that it will never happen again. He did not act out of malice for the Arab people or in support of Israel. He was naïve.”
But FIFA, the organization that runs the World Cup, said that it had no problem with Pantsil’s actions.
Meanwhile, Israeli Sports Minister Ofir Pines-Paz has been quoted as saying, “We have an Israeli at the World Cup. Pantsil’s gesture has warmed our hearts and many Israelis have now become supporters of Ghana.”