Not just Maccabi Tel Aviv: An Israeli review of this year's World Cup

Did you know that the Israel national team used to visit Tehran on a regular basis?

Iceland’s Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Vidar Orn Kjartansson (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iceland’s Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Vidar Orn Kjartansson
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel may not be present as one of the 32 nations competing in the World Cup 2018 in Russia, but it certainly has plenty of representation across the countries that are playing in the prestigious tournament.
The blue-and-white hasn’t featured on soccer’s biggest stage since the 1970 edition was held in Mexico, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find ourselves all over the map. Let’s take a look at the connections to all the teams, from Argentina to Uruguay:
Argentina: Leo Messi may not have played with Argentina in Israel, but arguably one of the greatest players ever, Maradona certainly did in 1986, 1990 and 1994 just before the Albiceleste went to the World Cup.
Australia: Israel faced Australia in 1969 in the Asia-Oceania final for a ticket to the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. The first match in Ramat Gan Stadium ended in a 1-0 victory for the blue-and-white and the return leg result in Australia was a 1-1 draw. Mordechai Speigler’s goal was enough to send Israel to its only World Cup appearance.
Belgium: Israel hosted Belgium in March 2015 for a UEFA European Championship clash at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. Some of the most well-known soccer players in the world appeared in this match including Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois.
Brazil: The Seleção have visited Israel on three occasions for friendlies as the likes of Rivaldo and Ronaldo graced the Ramat Gan pitch. Each match ended in a Brazil victory.
Colombia: Colombian coach Jose Pekerman, who has been at the helm since 2012, is Jewish. He was born in Argentina, but after Colombia qualified for the 2014 World Cup, Pekerman was grant-ed Colombian citizenship.
Costa Rica: One of Costa Rica’s only players that played in Israel was Luis Marin, with Maccabi Netanya from 2006-09. The center-back also made 128 appearances for his country in international play.
Croatia: Israel visited the town of Osijek, Croatia, in 2016 for a friendly. When Yossi Benayoun was introduced late in the contest, over 12,000 fans stood up and gave him a standing ovation, recognizing him as one of the greatest global soccer stars and paying tribute to the former Liverpool striker.
Denmark: Israel was on the cusp of making the UEFA European Championships in 2000 but had to face Denmark in a two-legged playoff tie. The pair of matches didn’t exactly go the blue-and-white’s way as it lost 8-0 on aggregate.
Egypt: The star of the Egyptian national team is none other than Mohamed Salah, who plays his club soccer for Liverpool. But back in 2013 he was with Basel and visited the Holy Land playing in a crazy 3-3 draw against Maccabi Tel Aviv in a Champions League qualification match.
England: Israel has only played England once in World Cup qualifying, in 2007, when it drew 0-0 in the Holy Land and fell 3-0 in Britain. The Three Lions’ coach during that campaign was Steve McClaren, who worked as a consultant for Maccabi Tel Aviv this past season.
France: Israel shocked France back in 1993 when the blue-and-white went into Parc des Princes and eliminated Les Blues from the qualification tournament of the 1994 World Cup that was held for the first time in the US.
Germany: Manuel Neuer, Germany’s ’keeper made a huge impression on Israeli youth when his father Peter was in Jerusalem for Yom Hashoa. In a program with at-risk youth, he distributed autographed postcards of his son to all of the children.
Iceland: Vidar Orn Kjartansson, who plies his trade for Maccabi Tel Aviv, was the first player from Iceland to play in the Holy Land. Since his arrival in 2016 he has scored 32 goals in 62 appearances.
Iran: Did you know that the Israel national team used to visit Tehran on a regular basis, playing against Iran in the Asian Cup Championship and Asian games numerous times, the last time being in 1974?
Japan: Israel sports a perfect 5-0 record against Japan in both World Cup qualifying and Asian Cup matches between 1973-1977.
Mexico: Mexico and 1970 will always be synonymous with Israeli socer fans as being the only World Cup that the blue-and-white has appeared in, going out in the group stage of the 16-team tournament.
Morocco: There are no less than 150 Israeli professional soccer players who have Moroccan heritage. From Eli Ohana to Hanan Maman, there are stars who can claim they had their roots in the African nation.
Nigeria: Plenty of Nigerians have impacted the local soccer scene, but one big man sticks out in John Ogu. Not only has he won three straight championships with Hapoel Beersheba, but will also be representing the Super Eagles at the World Cup.
Panama: Julio Dely Valdes may have been Panama’s greatest player. But did you know that his brother, Armando Dely Valdés, played for Maccabi Tel Aviv and Beitar Tel Aviv between 1989-1991 and has a stadium need after him in Colon?
Peru: A number of players from Peru graced the pitches in Israel, with Junior Viza being one of the most recognizable as the Peruvian played for Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Petah Tikva.
Poland: Andrej Kubica and Grzegorz Wedzynski were two of the best Polish soccer players to play in Israel and both featured prominently for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the 1990s.
Portugal: One of the game’s premier stars, Cristiano Ronaldo made a stop in Israel with his national team back in March 2013 when Portugal played in Israel as part of 2014 World Cup qualifying. The blue-and-white held him scoreless as the sides drew 3-3.
Russia: The host nation has provided many players to Israel over the years, especially following the fall of the Iron Curtain. Aleksandr Uvarov, who has been at Maccabi Tel Aviv as a player and then as a coach since 1991, represented the USSR in the 1990 World Cup. Shura, as he is known, has been an asset to Israeli soccer for close to 30 years.
Saudi Arabia: Did you know that Israel will be broadcasting World Cup games for free via satellite to Arab nations in the Middle East complete with pre-game discussion and live commentary in Arabic?
Senegal: Moussa Konate was just an 18-year-old pup when he arrived in Israel and impressed Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Moti Ivanir in 2011. The winger will be playing for his national team in Russia.
Serbia: Maccabi Tel Aviv’s shot-stopper Predrag Rajikovic is the second choice ’keeper for the Serbian national team, which begins its World Cup campaign against Costa Rica on Sunday.
South Korea: Israel defeated South Korea once back in 1964 when the blue-and-white hosted the Asian Cup, which it would hoist at the end of the tournament for the country’s only continental tournament win.
Spain: The Spaniards visited Israel in 2017 and defeated the host 1-0 in a 2018 World Cup qualifier. Some of the stars who will be appearing for Spain in Russia played in Holy Land, including Real Madrid icon Sergio Ramos.
Sweden: Rada Prica burst onto the Israeli scene with Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2013, helping the yellow-and-blue win three straight championships, and was part of the 2014/15 treble.
Switzerland: Israel and Switzerland have played each other four times in FIFA World Cup qualifying, with each contest ending in draws.
Tunisia: Elyaniv Barda, Hapoel Beersheba’s recently retired captain, is of Tunisian descent.
Uruguay: One of the country’s most traveled players, Sebastián Abreu, played for Beitar Jerusalem in 2008. Abreu played for 31(!) club teams and is still active, while also making 70 appearances for his national team.
So sit back and enjoy the next month and see how Israeli soccer will impact and be impacted by the 32 nations which will battling for the crown.