Israel could kick its way into soccer history

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Special to the News-Herald

Just to be upfront, this article is about soccer.

Furthermore, it’s about European soccer.

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I fully realize this is quite obscure.

I realize that a majority of readers, as even sports fans maybe have not gotten this far in the article before moving on.

This is a potentially amazing story, however. It might not come to pass, but in order to tell it properly in the future, it is worth bringing it up now.

This past Wednesday evening in Tel Aviv, in a World Cup Qualifying match, the Israeli national team tied France, 1-1.

On the surface, that achievment on its own is notable for two reasons, both of which I will keep brief.

First, France is ranked second in the soccer world. France won the World Cup in 1998, as well as the quadrennial European Championships in 1984 and 2000.

Israel’s world rank has varied between 50 and 70 for the last year and a half.

They reached the World Cup once, in 1970, and have never reached the main tournament of the European Championships.

Secondly, Israel was able to play an actual home match.

For the last two and a half years, because of security threats and the inability to promise opposing nations safety during their stays, recent Israeli &uot;home&uot; matches have been held in either Palermo, Italy or Antalya, Turkey more often than inside Israel.

OK, so what?

It was an upset, but not really even a monumental one.

Israel is nowhere near France in record, or tradition, or talent, but they are by no means one of the worst sides either.

And more to the point, there are probably a total of about 12 people in Suffolk that remotely care, and I personally know five of them. And about Israel finally being able to hold home soccer games in relative security?

Sure, that’s nice news too, but is it worth any more than that?

Fair enough, so here’s the rationale for this random insanity.

Wednesday’s draw meant Israel and France are even atop the standings of their qualifying group after six matches apiece, with each nation having four matches left to play between now and October. The group winner will directly qualify for the 2006 World Cup.

The group runner-up will advance to another qualifying stage in November, out of which four more teams out of eight will earn berths.

The 2006 World Cup will be in Germany.

This is not meant to be some sort of warning, or an attack claiming the Germany of the past is still present in any way today.

This is meant only to focus on the historic moment and achievement it would be if, and albeit that is still a significant &uot;if,&uot; Israel reached the biggest, grandest sporting even in the world, and did so while the event was being held in Germany.

To make clear, it is still more than possible this will not materialize over the next few months and matches.

In addition to France, Ireland and Switzerland are still very much in the hunt in Israel’s group. The Irish and Swiss are each one point behind the co-leaders, and both are far more established teams than the Israelis.

But if Israel does qualify and make it to Germany for the June 2006 tournament, on the tournament’s eve, the big sports media (mostly internationally, but certainly American media as well) will do stories and TV segments about the significance of the event.

This should indeed be done without question.

However, the &uot;big media&uot; will side-by-side include the obligatory query, &uot;Won’t it be an amazing thing if they got one or two upsets too?&uot; Or perhaps in more soccer-specific parlance, &uot;It’s a great possibility, Israel vs. Brazil, (or England, Spain, Argentina, or even Germany, etc) an upset would be a truly remarkable historic sporting moment.&uot;

This angle would be flawed in this writer’s humble, inexperienced opinion.

European qualifying for the World Cup began in the summer of 2004.

At the time of Germany 2006, the hypothetical story surrounding Israel could already be two full years in the making.

Combining that, more importantly, with the sheer historic monument that would/could be Israel’s national soccer team reaching a World Cup in Germany, means that the truly newsworthy aspect would be Israel’s getting to the Cup; not a singular play, or save, or goal, or even victory once getting there, no matter the opponent or final outcome.

So, if Israel qualifies, and if there happens to be, a bit more than a year from now, an article in USA Today or a segment on SportsCenter about this theoretical event.

And if anyone other than myself happens to skim the newspaper articles or watch the TV pieces, maybe some of us will remember where we heard of this great story first, remember how long this story has been going on, and remember what the real thesis of the story should be once the world’s focus is at its peak.

Andrew Giermak lives in Suffolk and is a sports correspondent for the News-Herald.