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In first, Israeli under-19 soccer team reaches European semifinal

Achievement earns squad a ticket to under-20 World Cup in Indonesia next year; coach says brains are the team’s strong suit

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Screen capture from the UEFA Under-19 web page showing the national flags of the four semifinalists, France, Italy, England and Israel. (UEFA)
Screen capture from the UEFA Under-19 web page showing the national flags of the four semifinalists, France, Italy, England and Israel. (UEFA)

Israel’s national youth soccer team made history on Saturday night by qualifying for the semifinal of the UEFA under-19 championships, the furthest an Israeli squad has ever advanced in the contest.

The achievement also came with a ticket to participate in the under-20 soccer World Cup, which is to be held next year in Indonesia.

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper congratulated the team on its success.

“You brought determination and the spirit of victory to the field and proved just how much you are real winners,” Tropper said in a statement.

The team finished second in its grouping despite losing 0:1 to England Saturday on a rain-drenched field in Slovakia.

The semifinal will be against France, which is unbeaten so far in the championship, and which qualified by hammering Italy 4:1.

The Kan public broadcaster will broadcast the game live at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Israel time.

Coach Ofir Haim told Kan on Sunday that it was a “tremendously exciting” achievement.”

“This is unprecedented,” he said.

Haim admitted that the team will face a challenge against the French, but noted that it has drawn games in past.

“That means it is possible to do that… and I believe we will come prepared,” he said.

Haim said that the Israeli team was using brains to make up for whatever it lacked in brawn.

“I like it when players think,” he said. “It is clear that in Israel we don’t have the physical [ability] and speed of Europe… so we need to make up for it with intellect and wisdom and in other components, and in that we are better than everybody else,” Haim said.

Israel’s path to the semifinal began with a 2:2 draw against Serbia in its opening game, then a 4:2 victory over Austria in the next. England is also unbeaten so far in the championship and scored the winning goal after six minutes of play.

Attending the World Cup next year could present challenges as Israel has no diplomatic ties with Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.

In 2015, Indonesia eventually granted Israeli badminton player Misha Zilberman a visa to enter the country and compete. After he tried for six months to obtain the document, the Badminton World Federation intervened to ensure he could secure the visa.

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