UEFA president Michel Platini 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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
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
“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
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 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
Platini once more brushed aside the political opposition from
“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
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?