It is hard to imagine how the European Under-21 Championship could have gone any better for Israel.

Sure, the national team could have progressed past the group stage and reached the semifinals, but no one really expected the blue-and-white to claim more than the four points it managed in Group A, including a 1-0 victory over England.

However, what Israel should especially be proud of is its success as the host nation. There were plenty of concerns, some more legitimate than others, ahead of Israel’s hosting of the prestigious event. European soccer’s governing body UEFA held firm against calls from pro-Palestinian activists to move the tournament away from Israel, with security fears an ever-present issue whenever Israel is involved.

However, despite several expected hiccups at the start of the tournament, the championship will be remembered as a resounding achievement, proving once more that with the right resources and precise planning, Israeli sport is capable of great things.

“Everybody here in Israel can be very proud of hosting this championship,” UEFA president Michel Platini said on Tuesday ahead of the final. “I know that all who visited here and took part were really surprised by the quality of the pitches in particular and that is the most critical thing for football, the players and also for the spectators.

“I can say that the organization of the championship has been fantastic and everyone involved delivered brilliant football,” he added. “It is true that these players are tomorrow’s superstars and I am very happy that this young generation – based on what I have seen here – all play beautifully.”

Over 175,000 people attended the 15 matches in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya and Petah Tikva, almost double the amount of fans on hand in the previous tournament in Denmark two years ago.

The matches in Denmark were on average half empty throughout the tournament, while almost half of the games in Israel were sold out, with the stadiums being 85 percent full during the championship.

“The stadiums were wonderful and well organized and the atmosphere in the stadiums was great with many families with young children attending,” Platini noted. “That is exactly the type of tournament that I like to see.”

Platini once more brushed aside the political opposition from pro-Palestinian sympathizers.

“As for politics, I am not involved in that. We have had similar problems in Ukraine and Poland recently,” he said. “We know there are some people who demonstrate in favor of one side or another. They’re entitled to demonstrate and we as UEFA want to work in cooperation with others to help. I want everybody to play football and from my perspective, the Israel Football Association has the same rights as any other association.”

Israel is not set to host an international sporting event of a similar significance in the near future. The Under-21 championship may have been an outstanding triumph, but Israeli sport only now faces its true test. Can it build on the success of the past fortnight or will this tournament be quickly forgotten without leaving a meaningful mark for the good on local sport?

allon@jpost.com

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