Israel’s Under-21 soccer team will face England in the European Championship semifinals, after the English national squad defeated Portugal in their quarterfinal on Sunday.
The result guaranteed that Israel will be one of just 16 teams to qualify to play in the soccer tournament at the Paris Olympics in 2024.
The Under-21 tournament acts as a qualifying event for the Olympics, which is played at the Under-23 level (with each team allowed three overage players).
The top three teams in the tournament, excluding France and England, will qualify for the Olympics. France, as hosts, has an automatic spot, while England can’t compete in the Olympics, where they are represented by Great Britain, which combines athletes from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
This means that England’s 1-0 win over Portugal ensured that Israel and Spain have now already qualified, with Ukraine expected to take the last spot.
This will be Israel’s third appearance at the Olympics in soccer following appearances in 1968 and 1976.
Israel will play England in the semifinal on Wednesday, with England heavily favored to progress to the final, having already beaten Israel 2-0 when they met in the group stage and having not yet conceded a goal in the tournament.
???????????????????????????? Anthony Gordon scored the only goal of the game as England U21s beat Portugal 1-0 this evening to reach the #U21EURO semi-finals.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) July 2, 2023
Still, Israel will be hoping to pull off a surprise, following a remarkable few months in soccer where the national junior teams have pulled off a string of upset victories.
Israel defeated tournament co-host Georgia on Saturday evening in a dramatic penalty shootout to advance to the semifinals for the first time.
The shootout was held after neither side scored a goal in regular or extra time.
The Israeli squad won 4-3 in penalties, with goalkeeper Daniel Peretz awarded man of the match for keeping the Georgians at bay. However, Peretz will not be able to play in the semifinal after accumulating two yellow cards in recent games.
England had helped Israel advance out of the qualifying round by beating Germany, knocking it out of contention and enabling the Israeli squad to move on after it defeated the Czech Republic.
The success at the European competition continues an impressive summer for Israeli soccer following the heroics of the Under-20 team at the World Cup in Argentina, where it took third place.
Throughout that weeks-long tournament, the Israeli squad pulled off a series of improbable wins, including a shock victory over powerhouse Brazil in the quarterfinals.
This year marked Israel’s first-ever trip to the U-20 World Cup. Its lone trip to the main World Cup in 1970 ended without a single win.
The U-20 tournament was held in Argentina after Indonesia was stripped of its spot as host and participant, amid protests in the Muslim-majority country against hosting the Israeli team.