Israel’s soccer squad going to the Olympics for the first time since 1976

The blue-and-whites were assured a place even before their semifinal game in the European Championships on Wednesday.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

For only the third time in its history, Israel will be fielding a soccer team at the Summer Olympics next year, thanks to the extraordinary success of its youth national squad.

In an interview with Israel Hayom, head coach Guy Luzon said with a large smile that the squad was “happy, excited, can’t wait to get there!”

When the interviewer asked for reactions to fact that it had been 47 years since Israel had taken a soccer team to the ultimate quadrennial event, star goalkeeper Daniel Peretz said with a grin, “History was born in order to break it.”

The last time, at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Israel made it to the quarterfinals before bowing to Bulgaria. Eight years earlier, in 1968’s Mexico City Olympic Games, they also lost in the quarters, this time to soccer powerhouse Brazil.

The team reached the Olympics by gaining a semifinal spot against England in the ongoing Under-21 European Championship, after a thrilling win Saturday night over Georgia that was gained in a penalty shootout when 120 minutes of regular play ended in a scoreless tie.

Usually only three of the top four European youth teams automatically qualify for the Olympics, but since England competes there as Great Britain (comprising Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well), it can’t receive a spot as a separate country.

In an interview after the Georgia win but before knowing if England would be the team’s next hurdle on Wednesday, Luzon had said he was “dying, dying, dying to know” whom they would be playing “in order to get to Paris. It’s beyond a fantasy, beyond anything else,” he said, shaking his head. “I dream about going there.”

Many members of the team also played in the Under-20 World Cup last month, when Israel achieved an almost-unbelievable third place finish against the world’s best youth teams.

The Paris Olympics will start July 24, 2024 and run for just over two weeks. In soccer, four teams in four groups will play each other first. The top two teams in each group will then go on to play in a single-game knockout format from the quarterfinals on. The 16-nation roster is not yet set, although it is already known that France, as host, are in, as are the United States, the Dominican Republic, and Spain, which will be playing Ukraine in the other European semifinals.