In one of the biggest achievements ever for Israeli soccer, the national squad scored a major comeback in stoppage time — one player down after a team member was sent off — to beat Japan 2-1 in the Under-20 World Cup on Saturday, snatching a ticket for the tournament’s last 16, where Uzbekistan awaits.
It was Israel’s first-ever match win in any FIFA World Cup, during its maiden appearance in the Under-20 World Cup, having only previously reached one such event — the main, open-age World Cup in 1970, where the team drew two games and lost one.
Back to 2023. After a heartbreaking, last-minute defeat to Colombia in the first game and a lukewarm draw against Senegal in the second, the match was a direct battle for second place in Group C, with Israel having to win in order to automatically advance.
Japan opened well at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas and had a few chances in the opening, and Isa Sakamoto eventually scored a header in the first half’s stoppage time.
Matters became worse for Israel when Ran Binyamin received his second yellow card after committing a foul and was sent off in the 68th minute, leaving the team with only 10 players.
But somehow, playing one team member down only did good for Israel, with Aharon Roy Nawi Nabi managing to net a close header in the aftermath of a free kick in the 76th.
A tie still would likely not be enough, though, and Israel’s pressure bore fruit during the first of seven minutes of stoppage time, with several magical passes and a goal by Omer Senior that completed the comeback.
Histórico deja afuera a Japón en minuto 92 y con un jugador menos. Su primer mundial y clasifica en Mendoza Argentina #Sub20 #Israel @fifacom_es @fifaworldcup_es #FIFA @Israel @IsraelArgentina pic.twitter.com/i74o4tM131
— ITON GADOL es Israel y las comunidades judias (@Itongadol) May 27, 2023
After Colombia drew its final game against Senegal, the final Group C standings have Colombia in first place with seven points, Israel second with four, Japan third with three and Senegal last with two. Only the first two teams automatically advance to the knockout stage, while the four best-performing third-place finishers in the tournament’s six groups also advance.
“This was a heroic win, the greatest match in the history of Israeli soccer,” said coach Ofir Haim, in tears. “This is for all of Israel, I dedicate this to you. I have no words, the players have a big heart and soul. People talked about our physical stamina, [but] from the 65th minute we were with 10 players and they were all over the field.”
חג המים במנדוסה pic.twitter.com/27MLtHwkab
— כאן (@kann) May 27, 2023
הם עשו את זה! הנבחרת של אופיר חיים רושמת מהפך מדהים בעשרה שחקנים על יפן ומשיגה את הכרטיס הנכסף לשמינית הגמר. רוי נאווי (76') ועומר סניור (90+2'), אחרי ריקוד של סתיו למקין ברחבה היפנית, כבשו לזכות ישראל. איסה סאקמוטו העלה את היפנים זמנית ליתרון. 2-1 בסיום. נתראה בשמינית! pic.twitter.com/uW0oi3PFgD
— כאן (@kann) May 28, 2023
Israel will next play on Wednesday against Asian champions Uzbekistan, which finished second in Group A, for a place in the quarterfinal.
Argentina took Indonesia’s spot in the tournament as host and participant. Protests in Muslim-majority Indonesia against hosting Israel forced FIFA into a very late switch of venues.