Out in the cold a few months ago, Ofir Marciano now has plenty to look forward to with club and country
At a time when opportunity is beckoning at both club and international level for Ofir Marciano, it is worth recalling that there was a period earlier in the season when things were looking pretty grim for the Hibs goalkeeper.
With the Easter Road side struggling at the bottom of the table and having just lost 2-0 away to Kilmarnock in mid-September, the Israeli was dropped by manager Paul Heckingbottom at a time when he had just started the process of re-establishing himself as his country’s first-choice goalkeeper.
After 13 consecutive games and almost three months on the bench, Marciano was given a reprieve by Jack Ross when he was restored to the starting lineup for the 3-0 home win over Aberdeen in December. He has remained there ever since, and notwithstanding the lingering disappointment from Tuesday’sEdinburgh derby humbling at the hands of Hearts, the 30-year-old has much to look forward to in the coming months, with a top-four finish, Scottish Cup glory and Euro 2020 qualification with Israel all still live possibilities.
“It's amazing, football is so funny sometimes,” he said. “Everything can turn so quickly. We can still finish in a good place this season. We can finish fourth, go to Europe, and we can do well in the cup as well. But these are things that can distract you if you think too much; we need to remain focused every day, to analyse, train harder and try to be better. These are the things that take you to those places.”
Marciano is grateful to Ross for putting him back in the side after he found himself playing second fiddle to on-loan Preston North End goalkeeper Chris Maxwell last autumn. “I appreciate every moment, and I appreciate the opportunity the gaffer has given me since coming to the club,” he said. “He has been brilliant to me and I am happy that I have managed to play well for him. I want to do even better for him because he deserves it and is doing a great job here. I've been through a lot in my career so I know that as long as you stay focused and stay humble, that is the key.”
If Marciano is to realise his international dream of playing at a major tournament with Israel in the months ahead, he will have to do so at the expense of the country in which he currently works. Scotland face Israel at Hampden in the play-off semi-final in three weeks, with the winner’s visiting Serbia or Norway for the final a few days later.
“The game at the end of March is massive for both countries,” said Marciano. “I think that would be the best thing that could happen in your career, to get to to get to a major finals with your country. It is a massive thing, especially for Israel because we have not qualified in ages! It is a great opportunity but we know it will be a hard game and even then it is only the first step.”
Marciano is hopeful of playing at Hampden after starting each of Israel’s last five Euro 2020 qualifiers at the tail end of last year. “First I need to keep playing well for Hibs so that the manager will keep selecting me,” he said. “If I keep my place then I will do my best as always.”
Scotland and Israel are preparing to meet for the third time in a year and a half after playing each other twice in the Nations League. Remarkably, they will meet again in a further two games later this year after being paired together this week in the draw for the next Nations League. “It is a nice bond our countries have - it is hard to split us at the moment!” Marciano laughed. “The Nations League is a good competition for countries like Israel and Scotland, it is good to have something to play for.”
It remains to be seen how the Coronavirus outbreak will effect the Scotland-Israel match. Marciano has so far had no indication of how Israel’s preparations for the match may be affected. “Israel have always been in touch with us and the staff are making sure that we are fit and in a good way,” he said. “In terms of the travel preparation and all those details, at the moment, everything looks normal and we have no problems.”