The Israel Under-19 soccer National Team defeated France 2-1 on Tuesday night to move into the European Championship final, where it will face England on Friday night in Slovakia.
This will be the first time one of the country’s junior national teams will be playing in the final of a major tournament as the only previous time one of the squads came close was back in 1996, when the Under-17 squad led by Israeli great Yossi Benayoun took third place in the European Championships.
On Tuesday, the blue-and-white controlled the pace of play from the get-go and got a lucky lead late in the first half via an own-goal. Oscar Gloukh’s cross caromed off of Souleymane Toure and into France’s net to give Ofir Haim’s team a 1-0 advantage.
El Yam Kancepolsky headed home the second strike in the second half for Israel, but Alan Virginius pulled a goal back a few minutes later to cut the gap to 2-1.
As France pressed for the equalizer, Israeli shot-stopper Tomer Zarfati made a number of timely saves as time wound down while the defense cleared every dangerous ball to safety to send the blue-and-white into the final.
The U19 side had already made history when it punched its ticket to the 2023 Under-20 World Cup that will be held in Indonesia by advancing to the semifinals of the Euros, but even before that tournament it will be able to continue to write a story for the ages when it duels with England on Friday.
Taking the gold back home to the Holy Land won’t be an easy task as Israel fell to the Three Lions in group play by the score of 1-0. But Haim will no doubt have his team prepared and ready to go with a chance to reach one of the greatest achievements in Israel soccer lore.
“There is no one more satisfied in the world than me.”Ofir Haim
“There is no one more satisfied in the world than me,” Haim said following Tuesday’s triumph. “We have a great group of guys here and we played against a terrific team and we were able to close the gap. Now we are focused on the final against England who we lost to once already and I am not prepared for that to happen again. This is going to be David vs Goliath. But right now I am on the top of the world. We will come in ready to go with the goal of winning the cup.”
“We all gave our heart and now we have to be prepared for the final,” said Israeli midfielder Gloukh. “We will be ready and we all hope that we can win the final. The most important thing is that everyone here believe that we can do just that.”
Goal-scorer Kacepolsky also commented about the win.
“We did something incredible and we were able to get the result that we wanted. I can’t even describe the goal I scored in words.”