FIFA U-20 World Cup: Israel’s surprise rise

The squad has pulled off one of the tournament’s greatest upsets by becoming semifinalists

Israel was the tournament's Cinderella. Credit: Télam

Israel’s journey in the U-20 World Cup has been a tale of strong opponents, shocking twists, and heart-stopping final minutes.

In their latest feat, they managed to beat one of the all-time football greats, Brazil, in a nail-biting match that was decided with a world-class play by Dor David Turgeman in the 105th minute of extra time, dribbling past two defenders inside the box and smashing the net with the left foot. That moment could be a summary of Israel’s performance as a whole: boldness in clutch moments like the clashes with Japan and Uzbekistan, mixed with phenomenal foot play and top finishing skills. 

Things come into perspective when considering that the Israeli team hasn’t participated in a World Cup since México 1970. That means 53 years of development that led to this team which has managed to take Brazil out of the running.

Group stage

In an uphill performance that improved during the tournament, Israel shared Group C with powerful youth teams such as Senegal, Japan, and Colombia, all of which are now out of the rumble in Argentina. 

They started on the wrong foot by losing 2-1 to Colombia, although it served to cement Turgeman as the leading showman of the team, scoring Israel’s only goal of the match. 

The squad gained its first point when it played against Senegal in the 1-1 draw at the Estadio Único Diego Armando Maradona, serving as a stepping stone for the first of several dramatic victories 

The first was against Japan. With little to no margin of error, the Israelis then measured up against Japan in a “win or go home” type of situation. With the match on a tie up until the 90th-minute mark, Turgeman assisted with a backheel pass to the hero of the evening, Omer Senior, who gave his team the 2-1 victory in the 91st minute over the Japanese squad despite being one man down on the pitch.

Sweet upset

In their first match attended by 10,000 people at the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas in Mendoza, the Israeli side managed to pull off a win in the sweet 16 round against Uzbekistan, which was expected to win after a better group-stage performance. Loyal to their style, it was a last-minute win clinched by Anan Khalali, who pushed the ball into the net after a smashing Don Turgeman header in the 97th minute of the game. 

Spirits were high amongst the players, but their greatest foe was still to come. They were paired up in the quarter.finals against Brazil, who came from a stellar performance against Tunisia by winning 4-1. 

Israel vs. Brazil. Source: Télam

Quarter-final David vs Goliath

What was considered a sure win for Brazil and a breeze through to the semifinals became the exact opposite at the end of the 120th-minute mark. Israel stood its ground and stopped the verdeamarelha dead in its tracks with a stunning 3-2 victory.

The Estadio San Juan del Bicentenario was witness to Anan Khalili’s thunderbolt of a header to tie the game, and Hamza Shibli’s equalizer in extra time with a little help from the opposition’s goalkeeper, Kaique Pereira Azarias.

But the play that would be burned in the memory of spectators present that Saturday afternoon will be the already-iconic play inside the box which sealed Brazil’s fate by the one and only Turgeman.

What’s next?

Israel’s next opponent will be decided between the winner of the Uruguay vs. United States standoff this evening at 6 pm in the Estadio Único Madre de Ciudades. The semifinal will be played on June 8 at 2:30 p.m.

Even if they lose, they will be remembered for their heroic efforts against Brazil and other strong opponents — particularly compared to their last and only participation in the FIFA U-20 World Cup, when they got eliminated in the group stage


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