The future remains uncertain for Israeli national soccer team

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By Harrison Cann
For Mitzpeh

Fans of Israeli soccer have had a frustrating couple of months. In October, Israel failed, yet again, to qualify for the FIFA World Cup, making it 47 years now since the national team has qualified. Additionally, head coach Elisha Levy was fired on Oct. 29 and Eran Zahavi, former captain of the national team, was suspended in September for ripping off his captain armband during a match after fans booed the team and subsequently resigned from the squad.

All of the controversy and disappointment has left fans of the Israeli soccer team dejected and irritated, as many had hoped this year was finally the year to break the streak of failed World Cup bids.

Tablet Magazine reporter Liel Leibovitz summed up the frustration of the Israeli people and fans alike in an article published on Oct. 10.

“When Israelis have set their minds to dominating international industries, they’ve flourished […] and the team has always had its share of talented players poached by some of the world’s finest club,” Leibovitz said. “Why, then, does the team falter?”

It is not just Israelis that are searching for answers regarding the Israeli soccer team. American Jews are also have trouble explaining how Israel can finally find the soccer success they have been looking for.

Sophomore club soccer player and business major Jonathan Godon said that from his experiences traveling to Israel and playing soccer, the problem is not passion for the sport.

Every summer, Godon gets to  experience firsthand the love that the Israeli populace has for soccer.

“During the 2010 World Cup, even though their country was not represented, there were games show in restaurants and public venues throughout the country and often gathered large audiences,” Godon said.

Godon said he believes the main way for any national team to increase their success is to ensure that their young talent is going to Europe to play from a young age.

Getting players to compete in European club leagues is imperative for succeeding at the international level because players will get to compete against the highest level of talent on a daily basis.

For some countries, it is not economically or geographically feasible to do this consistently, but Israel’s proximity to the major European countries and their myriad economic resources make it seem possible to send their most talented players to clubs.

Sophomore aerospace engineering major Yair Pincever reiterated Godon’s point that Europe is the place to develop talent if national soccer teams want to succeed.

“They definitely need to start sending their players over to academies just as many South Americans and Europeans do.” Pincever said. “Maybe then they can start competing at the same level as some of those countries.

Pincever said that as someone with a lot of family in Israel, it is troubling for him to watch Israel struggle year after year.

“It’s honestly so upsetting,” Pincever said. “What bothers me is that Israel actually has some good players that would love to get to show their talents on an international stage.”

Pincever believes Israel would have much better luck with qualifying for the World Cup if countries that are in the Middle East played in the Asian brackets rather than the European ones.

This year, Israel had to play both Italy and Spain in their qualifying brackets. Italy and Spain are two of the best international teams in the world, so Pincever and others wish Israel would be considered a part of Asia rather than a part of Europe.

“It is kind of hard to compete in the European division, and it would be much better for Israel if they got to play against China, Japan, and South Korea rather than Spain, Italy, and France,” Pincever said.

Pincever added that all these changes would take years to develop, so he does not think there is reason to believe Israel’s team will make the next World Cup, either.

While the present is obviously not bright, Godon said he remains hopeful that the future will be.

“I hope that in a few years when I go to Israel I will be able to watch competitive soccer, and I think it’s at the very least a possibility.”

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