Israel to face Uruguay in U-20 soccer World Cup semifinal, hoping to extend dream run

South Americans beat US to earn place in last four; South Korea downs Nigeria, will play against Italy in second semifinal

Uruguay's Anderson Duarte celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal against the United States during a FIFA U-20 World Cup quarterfinal soccer match at the Madre de Ciudades stadium in Santiago del Estero, Argentina, June 4, 2023. (Nicolas Aguilera/AP)
Uruguay's Anderson Duarte celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal against the United States during a FIFA U-20 World Cup quarterfinal soccer match at the Madre de Ciudades stadium in Santiago del Estero, Argentina, June 4, 2023. (Nicolas Aguilera/AP)

Israel will face Uruguay in the Under-20 soccer World Cup semifinal in Argentina later this week as the youth squad continues its unprecedented run during its first-ever time at the event.

Uruguay and South Korea advanced to the semifinals on Sunday after winning their quarterfinal matches, joining Israel and Italy which did so on Saturday.

The South Americans beat the United States 2-0 in Santiago del Estero, dominating the match from start to finish. The Asian team, which was runner-up to Ukraine in the last U-20 World Cup in 2019, secured its spot with a 1-0 victory against Nigeria thanks to a goal in extra time.

Uruguay will take on Israel on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. Israel time, hours before South Korea faces Italy for the other spot in the final.

In a landmark achievement for Israeli soccer, the national under-20 team upset powerhouse Brazil 3-2 in extra time in the quarterfinal on Saturday, advancing to the semifinal and marking perhaps Israeli soccer’s biggest-ever achievement.

Israel barely reached the tournament’s stage of 16, starting the competition with a heartbreaking, last-minute defeat to Colombia in the first game and a lukewarm draw against Senegal in the second.

(L-R) Israel’s Roy Navi, Ilai Madmoun, Stav Lemkin (back) and Shon Edri celebrate after defeating Brazil 3-2 in extra-time at the 2023 U-20 World Cup quarterfinal soccer match and qualifying to the semifinals at the San Juan del Bicentenario stadium in San Juan, Argentina, on June 3, 2023. (Photo by Andres Larrovere / AFP)

But in the third and final group-stage match last week, the youth squad notched Israel’s first-ever win in any FIFA soccer World Cup, with a wild, come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Japan in stoppage time, finishing second in Group C and qualifying.

After that, the team continued its improbable run last Tuesday with a 97th-minute goal to upend Uzbekistan 1-0 and reach the quarterfinal.

This year marks 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.

None of the four teams left in the tournament has ever won it. Uruguay was runner-up in 1997 and 2013.

The tournament is being 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.

Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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