In an unprecedented journey, the Israeli National team made it to the semi-finals of the Under-20 World Cup and despite losing 1-0 against the ultimate cup champions, Uruguay, managed to come back and defeat South Korea 3-1 to capture the third place crown.
At the start of the weeks long competition, Israel actually started out fairly lackluster, almost not making it to the tournament stage of 16, losing to Columbia in a last minute defeat in their first game and notching a draw against Senegal in the second. But in their 3rd game, they began an improbable and unexpected streak, first by achieving Israel’s first ever win in any FIFA soccer World Cup event (under or over 20), notching a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Japan in overtime and qualifying for the tournament in second place in Group C. That game was followed by a last minute goal and win over Uzbekistan (1-0), advancing Israel to the quarterfinals where they pulled off a shocking upset of soccer powerhouse Brazil (3-2), before ultimately losing to Uruguay in the semifinal, 1-0. Although Uruguay went on to win the cup by defeating Italy, 1-0, the Israeli team managed to clinch third place by defeating South Korea 3-1 in the consolation match, providing Israel with its best performance ever in any World Cup event since they started competing.
After the win, congratulations came pouring in from across the Israeli political spectrum, including President Isaac Herzog, “Congratulations to the Israeli youth soccer team for a historic achievement – third place in the World Cup! You are ending a wonderful and exciting journey and we are all proud of you!”, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “Huge achievement! We’re all proud of you!” and even opposition leader Yair Lapid, “Another evening full of pride with the victory of the Israeli under-20 team and winning the bronze medal. Respect to the players! There is a future for soccer in Israel.” Lastly, the Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar summed it up best with “Israel is in third place in the world in soccer for young teams, what a crazy achievement! What joy, what huge pride for the State of Israel! Go, go Israel!”