Israel set to welcome international soccer sensation
Cristiano Ronaldo and team Portugal to land for World Cup qualifying match
Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel
Though the event was more than slightly overshadowed by the visit of US President Barack Obama, Israel’s soccer fans prepared to welcome another international figure, as Portugal’s national team arrived at Ben Gurion National Airport on Wednesday ahead of a Friday World Cup qualifying match.
Featuring Real Madrid FC’s star forward Cristiano Ronaldo and a number of other high-caliber players, Friday’s match is more than just a game for many Israeli soccer fans; it’s an attraction that can’t be missed.
“There’s no doubt that when you say Portugal, you say Ronaldo. He’s the captain and leading player… He brings fans to the game,” Israeli striker Eden Ben Basat told Israel’s One sporting network late Tuesday night. However, “I believe the crowd will come firstly to support us, which is very important to the the team,” Basat added.
Over 40,000 fans will attend the match, tickets to which were sold out hours after being put on sale.
On the field, the game is an important one for both teams as they battle for one of the group’s two tickets to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
“We’re motivated and will come prepared to the game,” Israeli defender Tal Ben Haim told Israel’s Sport5 Tuesday. “There’s no doubt Portugal is one of the best teams in the world, but on a given day we can do it.”
“All the games are important, but Israel is directly competing with us to qualify. They have the same amount of points as us, and we’ll have to get a good result,” Portuguese defender Vitorino Antunes told reporters on Tuesday.
Much like Obama, Ronaldo will be surrounded by bodyguards and a security detail will watch his every step in the Holy Land — as will dozens of reporters, photographers and fans.
The game will kick off at the national stadium in Ramat Gan on Friday at 2:45 p.m.