Things to know before the opening ceremony

We've highlighted some of the matchups and teams to watch for the sports that begin play Sunday and Monday.

df  (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Monday night's opening ceremony of the 18th Maccabiah games at Ramat Gan Stadium is somewhat of a misnomer. By the time the proverbial curtains open on the games, several sports will already be underway, beginning Sunday. But since it's impossible to travel all over the country to witness every game (and for our international readers, doubly impossible), The Jerusalem Post has highlighted some of the matchups and teams to watch for the sports that begin play Sunday and Monday. So whether it's cricket or soccer, futsal or softball, it's all right here. Men's soccer Israel and the US will be two of the more competitive teams, as they won the gold and silver medals, respectively, in 2005. The US opens play at Neve Shaanan against Peru on 9 a.m. Sunday while Israel opens the tournament Sunday at 9 a.m. against Canada and Germany at 11 a.m. on Monday, both at Avi Ran 1. Although the whole field is deep, Israel might be the most dangerous team, said Scott Roland, US men's soccer coach. One thing that could help the US oust Israel is applying the message learned from watching the Team USA title run in June's Confederations Cup. "All my players follow soccer very closely," Roland said. "They are acutely aware of how the US team did. The key lesson to come out of that is how big a difference playing with passion makes and playing with confidence makes." Still, if there's only one game you can pay attention for all sports during Sunday's opening day, it might as well be the men's soccer match between Brazil and France. Given the countries' successes in international competition on every level, the battle should carry a lot of energy, excitement and national rivalry Sunday at Avi Ran 1 at 11 a.m. Women's soccer If the US wants another chance at the gold medal, they don't have an easy first step to victory. The Red, White and Blue squad opens the tournament Sunday at 9 a.m. at "Ketzef" Synthetic against Brazil in a highly competitive field that includes Great Britain, Australia and Israel. Israel, much like in the men's bracket, defeated the US for the gold medal in 2005. It begins play against Canada on Sunday at 11 a.m., also at "Ketzef Synthetic." The small field makes it very possible for a rematch of the 2005 final between the US and Israel, so women's soccer is an event to watch. Men's Softball In the past, baseball was America's sport, but the sports landscape in the US has changed. And while baseball and softball have taken a backseat to more popular sports, such as football, Venezuela's affinity for the diamond has remained constant. So call Sunday's matchup between softball powerhouses US and Venezuela the World Softball Classic. The two nations met in the 2009 World Baseball Classic three times, with Venezuela winning two of the games. It's that kind of national rivalry that will fuel Sunday's game in Baptists Village at 5:30 p.m. The US then plays its northern neighbor, Canada, on Monday at 6:30 p.m. in a rematch of 2005's title game, in which the US won 9-2. Women's Softball The US is the dare-to-be-scored-on favorites in this year's competition. The US took the gold in 2005's inaugural softball competition, and all they had to do to earn it was go undefeated by outscoring their opponents 111-3. And head coach Ron Katz said he is bringing a team that is "comparable" to the 2005 force. But US opponents have stepped up their play, Katz said. He said the scores at the Pan-American Maccabi games in Argentina were much less lopsided, and although it won the gold medal, US lost a game to Israel. "They're not like they were in Israel in '05," he said. "So it's my opinion that the rest of the group in women's softball is much improved." With only four teams in the field - 2005 silver medalist Argentina, bronze medalist Israel and Canada - every team has a legitimate shot at taking home hardware. The US takes the mound against Canada at 9 p.m. at Baptists Village. Tennis The Tennis Center in Jerusalem will be host to one of the largest fields of the tournament. And considering the diversity of 2005's medalist, everyone has a chance. Germany, Canada, Russia, Israel and the US all earned at least one gold medal in men's and women's competitions. Russia was the only team with two gold medals, earning them in women's doubles and mixed doubles. Cricket To call 2005's championship game a competition wouldn't do South Africa justice. In the gold medal bout with Australia, South Africa smacked the Aussies. It was a methodical beating, but that memory should stir tempers and ignite competitiveness for this year's tournament - especially since both teams meet Sunday at 10:30 a.m. in Lod to start their tournaments. Futsal Given the sport originated in South America, teams such as Argentina and Brazil will be at the top of the pack, and face each other Sunday at 8:30 a.m. in Ramat Gan's Zissman Hall. Both teams happen to be in the same group as the US, which kicks off its first ever Maccabiah futsal tournament Monday at 8:30 a.m. against Estonia in Zisman. Still, US head coach Sergio Rosenhek said he is confident. "I feel very strongly that we have a good shot," he said. And considering Russia - which opens the tournament against Hungary on Sunday at 2 p.m. in Marom Nave - won the tournament in 2005, it goes to show that even the South American favorites aren't guaranteed the gold. Rugby Defending champion South Africa has an easy road to defending its title in this year's games, as its preliminary matchups are against two teams that didn't medal in 2005 - Great Britain and Australia. Similarly, 2005 silver medalist the US and bronze medalist Israel face Chile and Canada, two teams that failed to make it to medal games. The US and Canada will play the first game of the tournament 4 p.m. Sunday at the Wingate Institute, followed Israel versus Chile at 6 p.m. Cycling The individual time trial will be held at Kibbutz Urim on Sunday with the road event taking place Tuesday in Ashdod. The road event starts on Menachem Begin Street, which cyclists ride until they turn left on Moshe Dayan Street. Competitors head back to Menachem Begin Street once they hit the end of Moshe Dayan Street, pedaling for the checkered flag. Water polo Considering 2005's gold medal game between the US and Israel was decided by one goal in favor of Israel, both teams are primed for a rematch. In addition to the US and Israel, three other teams - Brazil, Mexico and 2005 bronze medalist Canada - comprise the field, making a US-Israel title battle possible. The first game is Monday at 10:30 a.m. between Canada and Brazil at the "Wingate" Institute. Rowing In a somewhat depleted field, only the US has entries in every category, giving them a potential boost in the medal count. Heats begin Sunday at 7 a.m. at Tel Aviv Daniel Rowing Center.