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May 18, 2023 10:56 am

Israel Makes Triumphant Return to Major Soccer Tournament This Sunday

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avatar by David Wiseman


Argentina fans outside the stadium before a match between Argentina vs Panama in Buenos Aires, Argentina on March 23, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Emmanuel Fernandez

It will be a special occasion when Israel takes the field this Sunday against Colombia in the FIFA U20 World Cup.

It is the first time that Israel has qualified for a major global soccer tournament since the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Apart from this, its only other appearance at a FIFA tournament was the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

Hopefully this tournament is the start of a magical period for Israeli soccer. It was a significant achievement for Israel just to qualify, and if they make it out of their group, it will be an even bigger success. In order to advance to the knockout rounds, Israel has to finish in the top 2 or be one of the 4 best third place teams.

Argentina is hosting this tournament for the second time, and will do so just six months after winning the World Cup in Qatar. Argentina is the most successful team in the history of the U20 World Cup, winning it six times.

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That the tournament is happening in Argentina is a story in and of itself, because just over a month ago, Indonesia was set to host it, but FIFA pulled the tournament due to Indonesia’s opposition to an Israeli presence in the tournament.

The vibrant Jewish community in Argentina and also South America can now cheer on the Israeli team, which will be nice for both the fans and the players.

Part of the reason why it’s been so difficult for Israel to qualify for FIFA tournaments is that it doesn’t do so via Asia as it used to, but as a member of UEFA, which means it has to compete against European teams, and the competition is fierce.

How hard is this to do?

To provide some context, the five European teams who are in Argentina are Israel, England, Italy, France, and Slovakia, which means Israel is there, but teams from Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal are not.

The 2026 World Cup is expanding to 48 teams, of which there are 16 spots for European countries as opposed to 13 last time around. It would require something special for Israel to be one of the best 16 teams in Europe and if it happens, it would be one of the biggest sporting accomplishments in Israel’s history. Who knows what the future holds.

David Wiseman is the co-founder of Follow Team Israel, a page devoted to sharing the stories of Israeli and Jewish sport with the world. 

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