Israeli football (soccer) is going through quite the purple patch.
Last year, Israel finished second at the U-19 European Championships. By virtue of this, it qualified for this year’s U-20 World Cup, where it famously defeated Brazil on its way to taking the bronze medal.
The U-21 European Championships are happening as we speak. Israel will take on England in the semifinals on Wednesday night.
With Olympic spots given to the top three and England ineligible for one as it competes in the Olympics as Great Britain, Israel has now qualified for the men’s football competition at the Olympics for the first time since 1976.
It’s a foreign feeling to experience tiny little Israel taking it up to the world’s and Europe’s best and getting the better of them.
This year’s victory is particularly sweet because when Israel’s soccer squad qualified previously for the Olympics (1968 and 1976) and the 1970 World Cup, it was as a member of the Asian Football Confederation where the level of competition isn’t as high as it is in Europe.
Then you’re in the sudden-death phase of the tournament where the luck of the draw and things such as penalty shootouts mean anything can happen.
At the U-21 European Championships, Georgia may have looked like a great quarterfinal match-up on paper, but it was the host and thus the stadium was packed with Georgian fans. This incredibly intense atmosphere was raised a few notches more for the penalty shootout.
Because of this, Israel is assured of a least a playoff spot for Euro 2024. Four teams will be split into two semifinals and the two winners will play off for the coveted berth.
Then there is the question of the next World Cup, in 2026. Qualifiers are scheduled from March 2025 to March 2026.
By then we could really reap the fruits of all this amazing success at a youth level. Due to their success on these big stages, many of the players could be signed by teams in England, Spain, Germany, France, Italy and the like.
One of the hazards of this purple patch is how simple the players have made their incredible achievements appear when in fact they are really difficult. They’ve set an almost impossibly high standard for future generations to get close to matching.
Produced in association with ISRAEL21c
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