JERUSALEM, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Goalkeeper Yaacov Hodorov, widely regarded as Israel's best player of the 1950s and 60s died on Sunday, his family said. He was 79.
Hodorov was the first goalkeeper for Israel's national team after the creation of the Jewish state in 1948. He played for Israel 31 times until 1964 and became a folk hero at a time when soccer was in its infancy in the country.
"He was like half the team," said team mate Shiye Glazer, "like an impenetrable wall."
Hodorov was named one of the top five goalkeepers in the world in 1957 following his performance in a World Cup qualifier against Wales in Cardiff, where he made repeated saves despite having his nose broken early in the game. Israel still lost 2-0.
He also played with a broken hand against the Soviet Union in front of some 70,000 spectators in Tel Aviv when Israel lost 2-1 in an Olympic Games qualifier.
"Yaacov Hodorov was a hero for many of us in our youth, one of the most wonderful sportsmen Israel has ever had," said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Hodorov, born in British-administered Palestine in 1927, retired in 1965. He played most of his soccer for Hapoel Tel Aviv, with whom he won the league title in 1957 and the State Cup three years later. He suffered a stroke earlier this year.