By Juan Melamed
BUENOS AIRES (JTA)
In its first-ever appearance in the tournament, Israel’s under-20 men’s soccer team advanced to the second round of the FIFA U20 World Cup with a last-minute goal against Japan on Saturday.
Israel was an underdog going into the match, but the victory was made even more improbable by something that happened in the 68th minute of the game: an Israeli player was ejected after receiving a second yellow card for a harsh foul. Israel proceeded to score both of its goals in the 2-1 win while down a man.
The winning goal was scored in the final few minutes of play. “This is incredible!” exclaimed the English-language announcer.
Histórico deja afuera a Japón en minuto 92 y con un jugador menos. Su primer mundial y clasifica en Mendoza Argentina #Sub20 #Israel @fifacom_es @fifaworldcup_es #FIFA @Israel @IsraelArgentina pic.twitter.com/i74o4tM131— ITON GADOL es Israel y las comunidades judias (@Itongadol) May 27, 2023
“This is, maybe, the biggest win in the history of Israeli soccer. Historic, historic,” team manager Ofir Haim said to the Israeli Kan broadcaster after the match, with tears in his eyes.
With the victory, Israel advanced from the group stage into the knockout round, marking the first time an Israeli team has done so in any FIFA World Cup. The Israeli men’s team scored one goal in its only appearance in the general World Cup in 1970.
Israel will play Uzbekistan next, later today.
Jewish Argentines turned out in large numbers — at times in the thousands — to support the Israeli team in their group stage matches over the past week. In their first, a loss against Colombia, some Jewish fans shouted down a group of Colombia supporters who unfurled a Palestinian flag.
Before and during their second match, a tie with Senegal, members of the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement brought tefillin around to Jewish fans in the stands and outside the stadium in La Plata.
“This is for all of Israel, I dedicate this to you. I have no words,” Haim added.
The tournament was originally to be played in Indonesia, but FIFA, the international soccer body, stripped the country’s hosting rights after it protested Israel’s appearance in the competition.
Photo Caption: Israel players celebrate after beating Japan at the FIFA U-20 World Cup at Mendoza Stadium in Mendoza, Argentina, May 27, 2023. (Marcio Machado/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)