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Colombia’s Jewish Soccer Hero: Jose Pekerman

July 1, 2014 By:
Diego Melamed, JTA
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Colombians in Israel celebrate on Tel Aviv’s Allenby Street after Colombia’s victory over Uruguay. Photo by Diego Melamed.

A Jewish Argentinean has become a national hero in Colombia.

Coach Jose Pekerman is leading Colombia’s national soccer team to its best-ever appearance at the World Cup.

On June 28 the cafeteros (coffee makers) beat Uruguay 2-0 and reached the quarter final stage for the first time.

Before this year, Colombia hadn’t even qualified for a World Cup since 1998.

Colombians in Israel celebrated the victory with a double dose of happiness.

Olga Zuloaga, who has lived in Israel for 14 years, was celebrating the victory with a group of friends on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv.

“We are very happy, our coach is Argentinean but Jewish,” she said.

When the Colombian team qualified for the World Cup last year, the country’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, called to congratulate him. Now, after the Uruguay match, a popular Twitter hashtag in Colombia is #PekermanPresidente – Pekerman for president.

But Pekerman, 64, lives in Argentina, in the Jewish Buenos Aires neighborhood of Villa Crespo. He started playing soccer with a Maccabi club in Argentina’s Entre Rios Province. He had previously coached the Argentina national team in the 2006 World Cup, losing in the quarterfinals against Germany.

Colombia’s next World Cup opponent is host country Brazil.

If after beating Uruguay, Colombians are saying they want Pekerman as their president, what will happen if he leads Colombia to victory over Brazil? Pekerman for king of Colombia?

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