The Israel Under-21 National Team will continue its run at glory at the 2023 European Championship in Georgia when it faces England in the semifinals on Wednesday for a ticket to the gold-medal game.
The young blue-and-white national teams have surprised many with their fine play under head coach Guy Luzon following the Under-20 team taking home a third-place finish at the World Cup held in Argentina last month.
Thanks to Israel’s fine showing in the Euro, it has also punched its ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics, where an Under-23 team will feature at the prestigious Games. With a sensational draw with Germany, a group stage win over Czech Republic and then a shootout victory against host nation Georgia in the quarterfinals, coupled with England’s 1-0 win over Portugal in their respective quarterfinal, Luzon’s team accomplished the feat and clinched a spot for the blue-and-white in the Olympics for the first time since the Montreal Games in 1976.
The Olympics soccer tournament is similar to that of the U21 Euro and features four groups of four teams which will see each squad play the other teams in their own group in a round-robin format for a total of three group games.
The top two teams from each group continue to the quarterfinal stage, and from there the competition will be played as one-game knockouts through the final.
Paris Olympics soccer tournament start date
The Paris Olympics soccer tournament begins on July 24, 2024, and runs through August 9. The opening ceremonies for the Games themselves take place on July 26. The competition will be spread out throughout France and will feature in cities such as Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Nice, Bordeaux, Saint Etienne and, of course, Paris. The stadiums hold over 35,000 fans each and will see countries from across the globe participating.
In addition, each country is allowed to send three players who are above the age of the Under-23 squad and there is already discussion that Israeli star Manor Solomon, who will ink a brand-new deal with Tottenham in the English Premier League, will be one of them. Another player whose name has also been mentioned is Eran Zahavi despite his retirement from international play. However, due to a timing quirk in the system, should some of the current team’s players - such as Daniel Peretz, Omri Gendelman and Eden Kartzev - want to be part of the Olympic squad they would also be considered as part of the three overage players.
"Happy, excited, can’t wait to get there,” an ecstatic Luzon exclaimed after England had won and punched Israel’s ticket to the Olympics.
“We are much happier for our country than for ourselves and we are happy to represent the flag and can’t wait to sing the national anthem, Hatikvah. Our next goal is to advance to the final of the Euro and we will do everything to get there. Which team will we play? We still have some time until then. Right now we are happy that we punched our ticket to the Olympic Games, but all of us are focused on England and the upcoming semifinals.”
Peretz added: "Amazing. We still can't quite digest it. This is due to our teamwork, from the first person to the last, from the professional staff who do so much for us behind the scenes to every single player who are all part of the same mission and create such a positive atmosphere. We all want the team to succeed and that is the most important thing. We all have believed so much in this goal, we believed so much that we could do it and here we did, we succeeded in getting there."
Moshe Shino Zuares, Chairman of the Israel Football Association, was also thrilled.
“This feels like a dream, but it’s reality. Sweet, amazing, exciting. The Israel National Team is among the four biggest clubs in Europe and has guaranteed its participation in the Olympic Games. The players showed a huge heart, talent, commitment and a tremendous love for one another guided by a wonderful coach and a professional staff that worked day and night to take our football to the highest of heights and unforgettable moments. This is all for you, our beloved State of Israel.”
Israel will now look to find a way past the Three Lions, a team that had defeated the blue-and-white 2-0 in the group stages of the competition. Wednesday’s other semifinal will feature Spain taking on Ukraine, which stunned France in their quarterfinal.
The winners will face off for the title three days later, on Saturday night in Batumi,
Israel will be without star goalkeeper Peretz, who will miss the game due to yellow card accumulation as the shot-stopping gloves will be handed to Tomer Tzarfati, who helped lead the Under-20 team to a podium finish at the recent World Cup.
Tzarfati is not the only player from the Under-20 team who has been a part of the Euro, as Dor Turgeman, Roy Revivo and a number of others have taken center stage already and the National Team should be in good hands no matter who stands between the pipes against England.
In other Israel National Team news, Bibars Natcho, the captain of the senior men’s team, will be awarded with the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor. Natcho, who became the first ever non-Jewish captain of the blue-and-white is of Circassian origin, is a model of excellence for so many across the country.
Having made 88 appearances for the National Team while also leading many social action projects throughout the land, the 35-year-old Natcho has contributed in many ways to Israeli society and will be recognized as such by President Isaac Herzog.