The Israel Under-19 team may have lost to England in the final of the European Championship, but the future of blue-and-white soccer is as bright as ever.
From the likes of Oscar Gloukh to Ariel Lugassy and Ilay Madmon, Israel is developing talent at a record-setting pace thanks to the Israeli clubs investing in their youth departments and raising the standard as each year goes by.
The movement began thanks to Maccabi Tel Aviv owner Mitch Goldhar’s desire to see the yellow-and-blue create and develop its own talent as he invested in bringing in a professional staff a number of years ago led by Patrick van Leeuwen, who was charged with overseeing a very ambitious process.
Not only did Maccabi as a club itself benefit from this move, but other clubs around the country understood that in order to be able to compete they would need to duplicate what Goldhar had done for his own team.
Hapoel Beersheba, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Maccabi Petah Tikva and Maccabi Netanya all followed suit and the Under-19 National Team squad that lost 3-1 in the Euro final bore the fruit of all of the Israeli clubs’ labor.
On Friday, Israel and England both opened the game up aggressively as the blue-and-white’s Tay Abed Kassis had two chances to put Israel ahead early on.
It was Gloukh who polished off a 3-on-3 counterattack, as the Maccabi Tel Aviv man took a Lugassy ball and out it by Matthew Foster for a 1-0 lead in the 40th minute.
But Ofir Haim’s team and supporters in the stands weren’t able to celebrate too long as Manchester City’s Callum Doyle put home a corner kick to level the score at 1-1 in the 51st minute.
Both sides looked to find the winner in the remaining 40 minutes, but they came up short as the match headed into two 15-minute overtime periods.
Nehorai Iftrach and Dor Turgeman each had solid opportunities in the extra session for Israel, but Carney Chukwuemeka latched onto a Harry Vale cross as the Aston Villa product beat ’keeper Tomer Tzarfati to give England a 2-1 lead in the 108th minute.
Ten minutes later Aaron Ramsey pounced on a rebound to add an insurance marker as England hoisted the U19 European Championship trophy aloft.
But second place is still a very impressive result for the blue-and-white.
Madmon, the team’s captain, reflected on the game and overall experience.
“No words can describe what we did here and I want to thank everyone who watched us in Israel. There is a tremendous amount of pride. We came into the tournament thanks to our belief and we were full of confidence.”
His coach also expressed pride with his squad’s performance.
“We played against an excellent national team,” Haim said. “This was a game that saw two high level national teams and I am very proud of my players. The future of Israeli soccer is very bright and we really gave a heroic performance, especially in the first half. There were moments that if we were a bit more focused we could have been up 2-0. These players had a great start to their careers and they will hit many more highs along the way.”
To have the top sports outlets in Europe from Spain to England comremending Gloukh, Lugassy and Madmon as to how their futures are very bright and that clubs across the continent should quickly jump on the opportunity to obtain their services proves that something is working here in the Holy Land.
Perhaps we are witnessing a golden generation of talent with Manor Solomon and Liel Abada paving the way for the current Under-19 stars, but the development must continue. These young guns need to get serious minutes either in the domestic league here in Israel or they should head out to Europe and continue their evolution in greener pastures.
After Friday’s game, Gloukh commented on both his goal and future.
“I always look at where I am on the pitch related to others and when I saw a player coming towards me I moved aside and I was able to put the ball into the open corner. I will be heading to the Maccabi Tel Aviv training camp and from there I will see as I really don’t know what my future holds.”
Head coaches in Israel seem to shy away from playing the youngsters and instead ride the veterans, whose play is much more predictable.
In fact, very few teams – save for Maccabi and Hapoel Tel Aviv – featured some of the players on this Under-19 squad and that is something that must change and change sooner rather than later in order to not waste the time, effort and funds that have been put into the youth departments.
This is an opportunity that the future of Israeli soccer can’t miss out on as the foundation has been laid. The senior national team hasn’t been to one of the big tournaments since the 1970 World Cup and the time is ripe to break that streak once and for all.