This week in history / 78 years ago / Getting a foot in the door of international soccer
Israel's World Cup debut in Cairo paved the way for a long, glorious tradition of failure abroad and criticism at home.
Hundreds of soccer fans gathered on Friday evening, March 16, 1934, around the Sapir Cafe in Tel Aviv. Everyone was interested in the game between Palestine/Eretz Israel and Egypt. Allenby and Bialik streets became so packed that police had to disperse the crowds.
Inside the legendary cafe, now known as Cafe Bialik, they didn't broadcast the game in question on television - which had yet to reach Palestine - or even on radio. Actually, the game was already over. But a representative of the Eretz Israel Football Association (as the IFA was known back then ) was waiting for a phone call from one of the leaders of the national team to get an update.
A rumor spread early on in the evening that Israel had won 1-0, but less than an hour later it turned out that the result was completely different.
Some 32 national teams had signed up for the second World Cup, in 1934. They were divided into 12 geographically based groups. Group 12 consisted of Turkey, Egypt and Eretz Israel. The Turks withdrew before the qualification round commenced, making Israel the first Asian team to participate in the World Cup.
The two-leg tie between Eretz Israel and Egypt was supposed to decide which one would go on to the finals in Italy. It was not the first match in the history of the Eretz Israel national team, but in contrast to the squad that had traveled four years previously to Egypt with the British, Jewish and even one Arab player on the roster, the 1934 team was exclusively Jewish.
The squad, which was coached by Shimon Ratner, started training two-and-a-half months before the first match on March 16. The squad played friendlies against the British Army's team and won them all. Three days before the first leg, the squad traveled to Egypt without Ratner, who had not taken care of all the bureaucratic requirements for the trip. Yehoshua Aluf and Arye Ben Gad coached in his stead. James McCrae, a Scotsman, coached the Egyptians.
Relations between the Eretz Israel and Egyptian teams at that time were warm. Egypt even helped Israel get accepted into FIFA, soccer's governing body, in 1929. The team was greeted warmly in Cairo.
The major figures of the Egyptian Jewish community came to the game, which was held before the beginning of the Sabbath. The greatest of them was Egypt's chief rabbi, Rabbi Haim Nahum Effendi who, in those days was a member of the Egyptian senate. Members of the government and high-ranking officials crammed into the stands with 13,000 others.
The match was anything but close. In the 11th minute, Mahmoud Mokhtar, nicknamed El-Tetsh ("Prince of the Nile" ), scored. In the 21st minute, Mostafa Kamel Taha scored, and Mokhtar knocked another ball into the net in the 35th minute. Mohamed Latif made the score 4-0 before halftime.
At halftime, Israel asked the English referee, Stanley Wells, to make a number of changes, but the Egyptians refused.
The blitz continued after the break. El-Tetsh completed his hat trick in the 51st minute. Kamel Taha added another goal in the 79th minute.
Two minutes later a strong kick by Avraham Nudelman hit an Egyptian defender and landed in the net, saving the visitors' honor. Latif notched his second score in the 87th minute for the final result of 7-1 to Egypt.
When the squad returned to Palestine, domestic criticism began to emerge. The Haaretz sports editor, Shimon Samet, reported that he received information from a national team source indicating that the Egyptians were much faster and better trained.
"It is significant that the national team barely practiced ahead of the match," wrote Samet. "The pitch was wide open - much more than the fields in the country. It was full of weeds, and the players tripped. The lineup was not a successful one. Avraham Resnick suffered from weakness and caused a paralysis in the team. It was a mistake to play Amnon Harlop on the right wing. The left side on offense wasn't active. The goalkeeper Willy Berger did his job. Most of the goals were scored from close by, which is not his fault."
In the second leg, which took place on April 6 at the Tamar soccer field, Egypt won 4-1. Yohanan Sukenik scored Israel's consolation goal. Egypt went on to the World Cup in Italy, where it was eliminated 4-2 by Hungary.
The Eretz Israel team played three more official games before the establishment of the state. It lost twice to Greece in the 1938 World Cup qualifiers and enjoyed its only victory against Lebanon, 5-1, in Tel Aviv's Maccabiah Stadium in April 1940.
Despite the squad's poor show, Yosef Kwentsel (later known as MK Yosef Tamir ) wrote in Haaretz: "We all hope that this start will lead further down the line in a number of years to an Eretz Israel team in global sports."