Israel vs England - who to root for?

England and Israel's placement in the same group for the 2008 Euro qualifying rounds tests the allegiance of thousands of English olim.

soccer team sawan 88 (photo credit: )
soccer team sawan 88
(photo credit: )
Having made aliya, most olim aim to immerse themselves into Israeli society and take on the local culture. The national soccer team's matches in Ramat Gan have always provided an opportunity for newly-arrived and long-term residents of Israel to join together with their fellow countrymen and show their true Zionist values. Who can forget the atmosphere in March last year as Israel somehow managed to gain credible draws against Ireland and France? However, on Friday, the thousands of Englishmen living in Israel were handed both an exciting prospect and a test of their commitment to this country when England and Israel were drawn together in Group E of the qualifying round for the 2008 European championships. Now the age-old question, "Who would you support if England played Israel?", has to be answered. Never before have the two countries faced each other in a competitive game. Many of the Brits who will be fervently cheering on Rooney, Beckham and Co. during this summer's World Cup (if they can afford the pay-TV prices) will be willing to forgo their national upbringing and pledge their allegiance to Dror Kashtan's side. But for others it won't be so easy. Growing up in England, the national team is pervasive, especially during major tournaments. When England is playing in a World Cup or European Championship finals, the team's fortunes seem to be the main news story and talking point wherever you go, and a lifetime of support may leave its mark on some. There were few soccer fans, for example, who stayed in bed that Friday morning in June 2002 when England played Brazil in a World Cup quarterfinal. What soccer fans always crave is that little bit of quality to go with the passion. And the Israel vs England game promises to provide just that, and more. On paper it seems that Israel has no chance to beat the English. Israel has only ever qualified for one major tournament - the 1970 World Cup - and is 35 places below England in the FIFA rankings. However, the Israelis have clearly been improving in recent years and only just missed out on qualification for this summer's World Cup. Another home draw against a top team is not out of the question Yossi Benayoun's success at West Ham and the potential of Yaniv Katan to gain Premiership experience alongside him can only help the national team. There is also the prospect of emerging youngsters such as Betar Jerusalem's Maor Melikson and Aviram Bruchian and Maccabi Haifa's Shlomi Arbitman making an impact, as well as the other more established stars. For its part, England's experience and class can not be doubted. The team exudes quality, from John Terry in central defense through to Lampard and Rooney. But, the side lacks strength in depth and, with a few injuries, England could be vulnerable, as seen in its shock defeat to Northern Ireland in last year's World Cup campaign. One thing the two sides will have in common will be a new manager/coach at the helm. Kashtan, one of the most successful Israeli coaches, has already been named as the man taking charge of the Israeli team, but as yet we do not know who will replace Sven Goran Eriksson. If, as feared by many fans, Bolton boss Sam Allardyce gets the job, then who knows what will happen! Either way, whenever the matches will be held (all the teams in the group will meet next month to decide the schedule), they will be full of excitement and passion. Expect two unforgettable nights. Let's just hope the English fans behave themselves as well as the Irish did when they came to Tel Aviv.