Celtic’s Nir Bitton rose off wheelchair to face Scotland for Israel

Israel midfielder Nir Bitton shows his frustration
Nir Bitton was left frustrated by Israel’s defeat despite his efforts to be fit

Nir Bitton says “I was in a wheelchair” before defying Celtic manager Neil Lennon’s prediction and playing for Israel against Scotland at Hampden.

Lennon had suggested it would be “impossible” for the 28-year-old to be fit for the Euro 2020 play-off.

Bitton, who played in defence in his side’s penalty shoot-out loss, was in pain after the game but hopes to be fit to face Rangers on 17 October.

“I am in big trouble if I’m not,” he said of his ankle injury.

“Celtic is the club who pay my salary, but as a person, as a professional athlete, I couldn’t give up on this game. These are the games you dream of playing when you are six years old.”

Bitton had picked up the injury in Celtic’s Europa League play-off win over Sarajevo a week earlier but played the whole 120 minutes before scoring one of his side’s spot kicks as Israel looked to reach their first major finals since 1970.

“Even the day after the injury, I told the medical staff at Celtic that I wanted to give myself a chance,” he said. “I twisted my ankle very badly away in Bosnia and I didn’t believe I could make it.

“On the way back home on Friday, I was on crutches, I was in a wheelchair and I couldn’t even walk on the foot, but I wasn’t going to rule myself out of the game until I knew that I couldn’t play.”

Bitton said he was treated three times per day by Israel’s medical staff and joked he had “blocked” Lennon’s number.

“I didn’t speak to him – I understand the frustration of Celtic,” he said. “I was glad I made it, but it is a bit frustrating now.”

Bitton is not sure if he will be asked to play in the Nations League games, at home to Czech Republic on Sunday and in Slovakia on Wednesday, before returning for the Old Firm derby between the two sides leading the Scottish Premiership.

“Obviously Rangers is a big game, but I’m not thinking about Rangers right now,” he added.

“I don’t know if I will travel with the team for the next two games – it is a decision to be made by the coach and the medical staff. I gave everything to take part in this game. This is a game that really was my target.”

BBC News