Monday, June 14, 2010

Whither Israel at World Cup 2010?

Yes yes, I know they're not in it (again) this time around. But you know what, if you look at the way the Israeli soccer (that's 'Football' to you guys across the pond) club has progressed over the last decade, the little team from Israel could be close to breaking through for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. (Note: Israel qualified for their only World Cup appearance in 1970 when it was held in Mexico.)

Wishful thinking? Who knows. I'd just love to see it happen in my lifetime.

But read this semi-optimistic entry from FIFA's website on the Israeli team.

The tiny Middle Eastern state has shown steady progress in more recent times, finishing a respectable third in their France 1998 and Korea/Japan 2002 qualifying groups and reaching a play-off for a place at UEFA EURO 2000, where they lost out to Denmark.

The side had to contend with an entirely different set of problems in the battle for a EURO 2004 place. The unstable political situation in the Middle East meant Israel were forced to play their home matches on foreign soil - two in Palermo (Italy) and two in Antalya (Turkey).

They still, nevertheless, beat Malta and Cyprus and lay third with an outside chance of a play-off place. Defender Omri Afek even put his side in front against reigning European champions France, but at the end of the day Israel fell to a 2-1 defeat.

Israel are now allowed to play in Tel Aviv once again and the crowds certainly flocked to the qualifying matches for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany. They were on course for one of the top two spots in Group 4 right up until the final match. Moreover, they took their game to a new level by remaining unbeaten throughout the campaign against teams of the calibre of France, Switzerland and Republic of Ireland.

Since then, however, Israel's fortunes have slipped, and they were never really in the hunt to advance from their UEFA EURO 2008 group. This will no doubt make them all the more determined to secure their place at South Africa 2010.

OK, so we know they didn't make it in this year. But who knows for next time?

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