Israel’s national Under-20 soccer team lost to Uruguay 1-0 in the semifinal of the age group’s World Cup tournament on Thursday in Argentina, ending the team’s unprecedented run in the global competition.
On a far from perfect playing surface, Israel dominated the first half, but were outplayed for much of the second. The blue and whites held on gamely but were undone when Franco Gonzalez’s 61st-minute strike hit the post, with Duarte on hand to slam home the rebound past goalkeeper Tomer Zarfati.
In the first half, Zarfati had denied Uruguay striker Anderson Duarte, with the 19-year-old then hitting the woodwork.
Israel controlled possession for much of the game, but Uruguay fired off more shots, including shots on target.
The Israeli squad will vie for 3rd place on Sunday against South Korea, which went down 2-1 to Italy in Thursday’s other semifinal.
Uruguay will face Italy in Sunday’s final at La Plata.
This is the third time Uruguay have reached the U-20 World Cup final — they were beaten on penalties by France in 2013, and by Argentina 2-1 in 1997.
Striker Dor Turgeman, who secured Israel’s stunning win against Brazil in the quarter-final, said after Thursday’s loss, “I’m very sad but we’re proud of what we did.”
“Thank you to the Israelis who came here, and I’m sorry we didn’t succeed in making you happy. We want to take 3rd place, even 4th in the world is amazing,” Turgeman said.
“We believed we could do it,” said coach Ofir Haim. “I’m proud of the players. I lost today but I’m happy. I hope we brought a little light and happiness to the country and the people of Israel.”
Tragedy struck. Uruguay ???????? with the goal and 1-0 victory over Israel ???????? in the Under 20’s World Cup semifinal.
— Ari Ingel (@OGAride) June 8, 2023
President Isaac Herzog praised the players for displaying “winning, skilled, diverse and unified Israeliness” at the tournament.
“You taught us a lesson in the power of will, determination, bravery and, most important, achieving dreams,” the president said in a statement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the team and said, “We’re very proud of you.”
Throughout the tournament, the Israeli squad pulled off a series of improbable wins, including a shock victory over powerhouse Brazil in the quarterfinals.
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 unlikely 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.
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.