Israel’s under-19 men’s soccer team was defeated 3-1 by England in the country’s first-ever European soccer final on Friday night, with England notching the winning goals late into extra time.
The Israeli team had taken the lead in the first half of the UEFA Under-19 European Championship final, played in Trnava, Slovakia, with a goal from Oscar Gloukh, who fired home on 40 minutes.
But England equalized in the second half, with defender Callum Doyle sending the match into extra time.
Then, with 12 minutes remaining, England took the lead when a cross from the right was bundled into the net by Carney Chukwuemeka.
The Israeli team, which dominated possession for much of the match, came close to tying minutes later, but England cleared the danger after a goalmouth scramble.
And with four minutes left, and Israel pressing forward in search of an equalizer, England’s Aaron Ramsey sealed the win from close range.
Before the game, Israel’s newly installed Prime Minister Yair Lapid tweeted that he had called coach Ofir Haim to wish the team luck and tell him “all of Israel is behind you… and proud of you. You have already proved you are champions. Now go and show the world.”
Haim said after the game that his team played “heroic” soccer in the first half, “and we should have sealed the game.” There were several moments, he said, “when we came so close to 2-0, and then the cup would have been ours.”
Overall, he stressed, “I am so proud of these boys.” With players like these, “Israeli soccer has a rosy future… I don’t know if they’ll make it to another European final, but they will reach great heights in their careers.”
“They are so unselfish and so talented.”
Israel had advanced to the final by defeating France 2-1 in the semifinals on Tuesday, at the DAC Arena in Dunajska Streda, Slovakia. The Israeli TV commentator at the semi-final called the victory — sending an Israeli soccer team to a first-ever European final for any age group– “one of the greatest achievements in the history of Israeli sport.”
The team had already made history on Saturday night by qualifying for the semifinals, the furthest an Israeli squad had ever advanced in the competition.
Then-prime minister Naftali Bennett and Lapid congratulated the team after Tuesday’s win with celebratory posts on Twitter.
“We have a young, wonderful and inspiring generation that brings us joy in all areas,” wrote Bennett.
The Israeli team vastly surpassed expectations in the tournament, having considered mere qualification to be an achievement. In the course of its run to the final, it defeated Cyprus, Moldova, Türkiye, Scotland, Austria, and France.
“It is impossible to overstate the importance of the history just made by the Israeli national youth team,” declared veteran Haaretz sports correspondent Ido Rokovsky after the semi-final win against France.
“If the achievement of qualifying for the Youth World Cup was impressive, then advancing to the finals of the tournament already requires a new word in Hebrew,” Rokovsky added.
The achievement also came with a ticket to participate in the FIFA U-20 (under-20) World Cup tournament, which is set to be held next year in Indonesia.