Historic win – Israel’s U20 team makes World Cup semifinals

The soccer team dedicated its victory to the three IDF soldiers murdered Saturday morning on the Egyptian border.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Israeli junior national soccer team pulled off a historic win Saturday against Brazil in the FIFA U20 World Cup quarterfinals, beating the favorite 3-2 in overtime to earn an unheard-of place in the Final Four of the most important youth sports competition in the world.

The team came back not once but twice against the soccer powerhouse.

Local sports commentators said that in the first half the blue-and-whites outplayed Brazil, but even with a few good scoring chances on each side, they went into the locker rooms at 0-0.  Ten minutes into the second half, Brazilian star Leonardo scored the first goal of the match, but not four minutes later, Anan Khalaili headed in the equalizer.

After both team’s goalies made some excellent saves, the game went into the 30-minute overtime period tied at 1-1. Immediately the pace changed. Brazil scored 19 seconds in, but in an astonishing turnaround, two minutes later Hamza Shibli, another Arab-Israeli player, perfectly timed his arrival in the box after a long pass and kicked the ball in from short range to even the score again.

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Fifteen long minutes later, Dor Turgeman became Israel’s hero when he twisted past two yellow defenders and put the ball into the corner of the net with a brilliant shot. The team then had two chances to really put the game away after being awarded two penalty kicks one right after the other, but missed both. This could have easily deflated them, giving an opening to their opponents, but it didn’t. With unflagging defense, the Israelis hunkered down and protected their side of the field for the rest of the time and came away with the victory.

Following the game, Turgeman said the players had known about the terror attack that morning in which three IDF soldiers had been murdered by an Egyptian police officer on the southern border, and it had “pained them greatly.”

“We underwent a very hard day in Israel. We went onto the field with a wristband in memory of those murdered. I want to dedicate the win to their families, I hope we gave them some joy,” he said.

Coach Ofir Haim also immediately mentioned the terror attack in the post-game press conference, saying, “First of all, I want to share in the grief of the families after the attack today. This victory is for the whole country. At the Euros last year, we united the country and we want to unite it again. Our country is amazing.”

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Then playing in the European Championships, the same team, in the U19 category, reached the finals last July before losing to England 3-1.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sports Minister Miki Zohar also referred to the loss Israel had just suffered when they called to congratulate Haim.

“On this day of sadness, you brought joy and pride on a level that’s hard to describe. I watched every minute of the game. There hasn’t been a day like it in Israeli soccer,” Netanyahu said.

Zohar said that “coming in this difficult period that we underwent today, you made us all happy. We’re proud of you, and we appreciate you… Now go get them in the semis!”

This Thursday, the Israelis will face the winner of the USA-Uruguay quarterfinal match, which will be played on Sunday.