Israel slides past Andorra 2-1, boosting Euro 2024 soccer tourney hopes

National squad overcomes sloppy play to hold third place in Group I, but Jerusalem match marred by racist jeers aimed at Arab midfielder Abu Fani

Israel's Manor Solomon shoots for goal during Israel's UEFA Euro 2024 group I qualifying round soccer match against Andorra at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, on June 19, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)
Israel's Manor Solomon shoots for goal during Israel's UEFA Euro 2024 group I qualifying round soccer match against Andorra at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, on June 19, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Israel’s hopes for a spot in the Euro 2024 soccer tournament were given a boost Monday as the squad beat up on lowly Andorra 2-1 in Jerusalem.

The win came despite sloppy play and several missed opportunities from Israel that allowed cellar-dwelling Andorra to stay in contention until the end as the teams played in front of a Jerusalem crowd that could face sanctions after an Arab player was subjected to racist jeers.

Defender Raz Shlomo put Israel up top in the 41st minute with a laser beam shot from 25 yards out that split a sea of defenders and flew into the net past leaping Andorran keeper Iker Alvarez.

But Shlomo went from hero to zero minutes after halftime when he lazily scooted the ball toward Israeli keeper Omri Glazer for him to clear to the other side of the field. Andorra’s Albert Rosas, racing to catch up, managed to intercept the ball from the lethargic-looking Israelis, chipping it over the legs of a sliding Glazer and into the net.

Israel retook the lead for good in the 61st minute on a clean shot from midfielder Manor Solomon, who found his way into position following some fancy footwork through a gauntlet of Andorrans.

The win keeps third place Israel in sight of Group I leaders Switzerland and Romania in the qualifier tournament to determine the teams who will vie for Europe’s top soccer prize in Germany next year. Israel has 7 points, and Switzerland and Romania are sitting at 10 and 8 points respectively after battling to a 2-2 draw in front of a stunned Lucerne crowd.

Andorra’s defender Max Llovera (R) marks Israel’s forward Shon Weissman as he prepares to pass the ball during the UEFA Euro 2024 group I qualifying round football match between Israel and Andorra at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, on June 19, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The top two teams will automatically advance to the main tournament next June, and three third-placed teams will make it to the tournament via a playoff round in March.

Andorra is in last place on a treble of losses and a draw. Israel’s national team is now undefeated in five tries against the tiny mountain principality.

Andorra’s defender Moises San Nicolas and Israel’s midfielder Manor Solomon have an altercation during the UEFA Euro 2024 group I qualifying round football match between Israel and Andorra at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, on June 19, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The match was played at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium, home to Beitar Jerusalem, known for its core of rabid far-right supporters. The team has infamously never signed an Arab player and fans have protested the addition of Muslims to the team.

During the match, fans booed Israeli midfielder Mohammed Abu Fani when he entered the field as a second-half substitute, including calling him a “terrorist,” according to media reports. Team captain Eli Dasa said Abu Fani went to the locker room distraught to the point of tears.

Mohammed Abu Fani (R) and other Israel players warm up ahead of the UEFA Euro 2024 group I qualifying round football match between Israel and Andorra at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, on June 19, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

“From my perspective, this is an embarrassment, I have no words,” Dasa told the press. “It’s intolerable, as a Black player who has also suffered racism, there’s no place for it. We love [Abu Fani], he’s one of the most important figures in the locker room and we are all behind him.”

Other players also spoke out in support of Abu Fani.

Fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team hold up a sign reading ‘Beitar forever pure,’ during a match on January 26, 2013. (Flash90)

Beitar’s fans came under scrutiny last month when they stormed the pitch following their team’s win of the State Cup, forcing authorities to cancel the medal ceremony and threaten to strip the team of its trophy.

According to UEFA rules, racist incidents during matches should be punished by barring teams from hosting fans.

Israel’s Euro 2024 campaign got off to a shaky start in March, with a 1-1 draw against Kosovo (on a Dasa own-goal) followed by a 3-0 loss to Switzerland. The team beat Belarus 2-1 in Hungary last week. Its next match is in September.

Earlier this month, Israel’s youth soccer team stunned Brazil and shocked the world by finishing in third place in its first-ever U-20 World Cup. The squad’s success has raised hopes for the future of Israeli soccer after decades of mediocrity against talent-packed European clubs.

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