Israel’s national Under-20 soccer team continued its improbable World Cup run late Tuesday with an outlandish 97th-minute goal to upend Uzbekistan 1-0 in dramatic fashion.
After 96 minutes without a goal for either side, Anan Khalaili scored from close range to essentially close out the match and send Israel to the U-20 World Cup quarterfinals, where it will face off against the winner of Brazil-Tunisia Wednesday.
The decisive goal at Santiago del Estero in Argentina came just days after the youth squad notched Israel’s first-ever win in any FIFA soccer World Cup, with a wild, shorthanded, come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Japan in stoppage time on May 27.
Unlike Saturday’s winning kick, which capped a series of smart, quick passes, Tuesday’s clincher appeared to be more dependent on luck. With time winding down, Khalaili attempted to head a free kick into the net, but instead knocked the ball into the back of a defender’s leg.
The rebound, however, landed right back in front of a stumbling Khalaili, who managed to outmaneuver two defenders sandwiching him to tap the ball between the keeper’s legs and into the net.
“I felt it. I had a good feeling about it. I knew it,” Khalaili said after the match, still covered in goosebumps from the excitement.
אל אל ישראל! הנבחרת הצעירה עושה את הבלתי ייאמן ועולה לרבע גמר המונדיאליטו
לתקציר המשחק המלא >>> pic.twitter.com/7uhnVK1vjV
— כאן (@kann) May 30, 2023
The winning goal came after an hour and a half of both teams failing to capitalize on several chances to score. Both teams sent balls careening off the crossbar during the first half.
“I’m proud of my players, this was a tough game, a cup championship,” manager Ofir Haim said. “We didn’t have good production, we were not smart, but we showed a lot of character. We were better than them. It wasn’t a great game, but there was a ton of fight and heart.”
This year marks Israel’s first-ever trip to the U-20 World Cup tournament. Its lone trip to the main World Cup in 1970 ended without a single win.
Haim said the squad would prepare for whoever comes next, whether it be Tunisia, or heavy favorites Brazil.
“Firstly, believe it. We have a great national team. We are special and I truly believe that,” he told reporters. “Whoever comes next is welcome, we’ll prepare, we’ve got a day off, we’ll get ready and try to make it to the semifinal.”
High off the win against Asian champs Uzbekistan, Khalaili was also ready to take on the legendary South American team Tuesday night.
¡Histórica clasificación a cuartos de final de Israel! Así festejaron los jugadores en el vestuario tras vencer 1-0 a Uzbekistán en Mendoza y meterse entre los 8 mejores equipos del Mundial Sub 20. ????????⚽???? pic.twitter.com/OQJ6tYlXfQ
— SportsCenter (@SC_ESPN) May 30, 2023
“Brazil? Anything is possible. We’ll watch some tape on them, we can do it, we’re not suckers, we’re not less good than anybody,” he said. “We proved that.”
The tournament is being held in Argentina after Indonesia’s spot as host and participant was stripped over protests in the Muslim-majority country against hosting the Israeli team.