In first, Israeli under-19 soccer team reaches European semifinal

Israel’s youth national football team made history on Saturday night by qualifying for the semi-finals of the UEFA Under-19 Championship, the furthest an Israeli team has ever achieved in the competition.

The success also came with a ticket to take part in the U20 World Cup, which is scheduled to be held in Indonesia next year.

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper congratulated the team on their success.

“You brought determination and a winning spirit to the field and proved just how real winners you are,” Tropper said in a statement.

The team finished second in their grouping despite losing 1-0 to England on a rain-soaked field in Slovakia on Saturday.

The semifinals will be played against unbeaten France, who qualified after beating Italy 4-1.

Public broadcaster Kan will broadcast the game live on Tuesday at 9 p.m. Israel time.

Coach Ofir Haim told Kan on Sunday that it was a “hugely exciting” performance.”

“This is unprecedented,” he said.

Haim admitted the team will face the French but noted that they have drawn in the past.

“That means this is possible … and I believe we will be prepared,” he said.

Haim said the Israeli team used savvy to make up for what they lacked in brawn.

“I like it when players think,” he said. “It is clear that we do not have a physical one in Israel [ability] and speed of Europe… so we have to make up for that in intellect and wisdom and in other components and we’re better than everyone at that,” Haim said.

Israel’s road to the semi-finals began with a 2-2 draw against Serbia in the opening game, then a 4-2 win against Austria in the next. England are also unbeaten in the league and scored the winning goal after six minutes of play.

Attending next year’s World Cup could pose challenges as Israel does not have diplomatic ties with Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.

In 2015, Indonesia finally granted Israeli badminton player Misha Zilberman a visa to enter the country and compete. After six months of trying to get the document, the Badminton World Federation intervened to ensure he could obtain the visa.

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