Heroic Israeli performance falls short of European soccer title

The Israelis were the better side against their English counterparts, who capitalized late on to win the under-19 European Championships.

 England's Jarell Quansah in action with Israel's Stav Lamkin (photo credit: REUTERS/RADOVAN STOKLASA)
England's Jarell Quansah in action with Israel's Stav Lamkin
(photo credit: REUTERS/RADOVAN STOKLASA)

Israel’s under-19 soccer team lost 3-1 in extra time to England in the final of the European Championships on Friday in Trnava, Slovakia, the best performance by an Israeli national team in any soccer competition since the country joined the European fold in 1992.

Undaunted by the experience of their opponents, who also beat them 1-0 earlier in the competition, the Israelis were much the better side in the first half and had several chances to score, as their individual skills often baffled their English opponents.

Israel takes the lead

Israel eventually made their dominance count and took the lead in the 40th minute when Oscar Gloukh of Maccabi Tel Aviv received the ball inside the area, got past two defenders and shot high to the right of England goalkeeper Matthew Cox – to the delight of the small Israeli contingent in the mostly empty stadium and many more watching at home on TV, who all broke into wild celebrations.

While Israel might have had more goals, coach Ofir Haim’s charges took their slim lead into the halftime break hoping to consolidate their lead in the second 45 minutes.

 Israel's Oscar Gloukh celebrates scoring their first goal with Tai Abed  (credit: REUTERS/RADOVAN STOKLASA) Israel's Oscar Gloukh celebrates scoring their first goal with Tai Abed (credit: REUTERS/RADOVAN STOKLASA)

But Gloukh’s goal five minutes before the break was the wake-up call England needed, and they responded soon after a calming cup of tea in the dressing room – or a stern telling-off by their coach, Ian Foster.

England makes it level

Whichever it was, England were soon back on level terms when Callum Doyle scored for the favorites after a 52nd-minute corner.

Israel were not disheartened, however, and the players continued to show some of their deft skills and uncharacteristically good defending as play progressed.

The Israelis were also the beneficiaries of a bit of good fortune when, with 10 minutes to go, England’s Carney Chukwuemeka hit a powerful, low diagonal shot that beat everybody, including Israeli goalkeeper Tomer Zarfati, but hit the post and was cleared to safety.

It was a chance to breathe a sigh of relief as the referee blew for full time with the teams still deadlocked and 30 minutes of extra time beckoning.

Extra time sees England squeeze past Israel

But the additional period proved just a little too much for the Israelis as they began to tire and England took the lead through Chukwuemeka, who scored in the 108th minute. Desperately going forward seeking the equalizer that might send the match to a penalty shootout allowed Aaron Ramsey to seal the result with a third England goal in the 116th minute.

Jubilant England ended the tournament unbeaten as they claimed their second under-19 UEFA European Championship title, having also won in 2017. Israel played in the competition once previously, in 2014, when they failed to progress beyond the group stages of the tournament.

 Israel's Nehorai Ifrah looks dejected after losing the European Championship final (credit: REUTERS/RADOVAN STOKLASA) Israel's Nehorai Ifrah looks dejected after losing the European Championship final (credit: REUTERS/RADOVAN STOKLASA)

“We played excellent football, it was amazing,” Haim said. “Watching as a coach from the side, I couldn’t believe this was my team. Usually we play very good football, but today I saw the best football this team has ever played and I’m very proud.”

Foster, his counterpart, was also complimentary about Israel’s showing.

“Credit to Israel: first half they were by far the better side,” he said. “The only positive from the first half is that it was only one [goal]. We changed a couple of things round at half-time, and I think over the course of the second 45 minutes and extra time, we were [the] deserved winners.

“I’m delighted for the players – they’ve worked really, really hard,” Foster said. “Not only in this camp but in March and in November to get us here.”

One of the bonuses for Israel from this tournament is that the team has qualified for the under-20 World Cup that will be played next May and June in Indonesia.