debating champions 248.88.
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It's a well-known fact that Israelis love to argue, but two Tel Aviv University students, Yoni Cohen-Idov and Uri Mehav, surpassed all expectations by placing first and second, respectively, in the European Debating Championships in Newcastle, England earlier this month.
Buoyed by their incredible performance, the duo have set their sights on going to the forthcoming World Cup in Turkey this December.
"There'll be 300, maybe even 400 teams, so it will be very tough," explained Cohen-Idov, "but we hope to go on and give it a shot. We're aiming for the ESL final or to be only the second Israeli team in history to make the general knockout stages."
The European Championships are a yearly event which allow university students from all over Europe the chance to show off their debating skills.
There are two categories: English as a First Language (EFL) and English as a Second Language (ESL), and each university can be represented by up to three teams. Although the Israeli duo belong firmly in the ESL group, they shocked all present by blowing away English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish competition to claim a place in the EFL Grand Final alongside the three Oxford teams.
"In at least 10 years of this competition, this was only the second time an ESL team made the final," Cohen-Idov told The Jerusalem Post. "It was a fantastic experience - an ESL team making the Grand Final doesn't happen every day." The format of the competition comprises seven qualifying rounds where most of the approximately 160 teams face each other briefly before the 16 best teams are selected for the final knockout rounds.
The Tel Aviv duo made the cut ahead of scores of native English speakers, and continued to shock spectators, opponents and adjudicators alike by progressing to the final, where they faced three Oxford teams, having beaten a Nottingham team and two Dublin teams along the way.
Mehav and Cohen-Idov entered the stage to an extraordinary reception, with a crowd of defeated Irish and Turkish participants backing the underdog and cheering their follow non-native English speakers.
"That was the greatest experience," explained Mehav. "It was really an amazing sight to see Muslims and Catholics cheering for us, chanting 'Tel Aviv' over and over - we were absolutely exhilarated."
Asked whether the Israeli team experienced any heckling or protests outside the tournament, Cohen-Idov explained that "There was no trouble at all; it was a great experience. These people are polite and intelligent - we were made to feel at home."
Cohen-Idov explained that the Israeli team gained a cult status with the other teams, to the extent that "we were immensely popular. Every year Oxford teams make the Final, and they are expected to win. An ESL team in the quarterfinal was surprising, but in the final it was a shock - we were a phenomenon." He added that "The Irish added blue and white ribbons and Stars of David to their flags and Cambridge chanted for us endlessly. The Turks and Slovenians were hugely behind us, too - there was a real sense of brotherhood between the non-native English speakers."
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