How Egypt Doubly Thrashed Israel in a World Cup Play-off

The second World Cup - and the first held on European soil - was played in Italy in 1934. To qualify for the finals, the Israeli national team (known then as the Land of Israel, or Eretz Israel, team) was drawn in a two-leg play-off against Egypt.

Asher Goldberg
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Asher Goldberg

The second World Cup - and the first held on European soil - was played in Italy in 1934. To qualify for the finals, the Israeli national team (known then as the Land of Israel, or Eretz Israel, team) was drawn in a two-leg play-off against Egypt.

The coach of the national team at the time was Shimon Ratner, known to all by his nickname, Lumek, and he was the best player in Palestine during the 1920s and early 1930s. He was born in 1898 in Poland, but moved to Austria, where he played for the legendary Jewish team Hakoach Vienna. In 1920, he emigrated to Palestine and immediately began work on buildin roads in the Jordan Valley. Maccabi Tel Aviv quickly snapped him up, however, and he was appointed player-coach.

After the establishment of the state in 1948, Lumek went on to coach Maccabi Petah Tikva and Hapoel Petah Tikva. He was the first Israeli coach to insist on two training sessions every week, and the first to employ a game plan. He died in 1964, at the age of 67.

Lumek managed to gather together 16 players, taken mainly from the ranks of Hapoel Tel Aviv, but augmented with representatives of Maccabi Hashmonayim Jerusalem, Hapoel Haifa and Hakoach Tel Aviv. The national team played five warm-up matches, against teams from the British army and other British teams in the region.

The team left for Cairo on 12 March 1934, taking a rather circuitous route. After gathering in Tel Aviv, the players boarded a train for Lod and it continued to Rehovot, Yavne, Ashdod and Rafah - where the engine was replaced. From there it continued into the Sinai, changing engine again at Kantara, and crossed over the Suez canal before arriving at the central station in Cairo.

Lumek and team captain Avraham Reznik, who had been in Egypt two years previously, recommended the Continental Hotel, and it was here that members of the Egyptian Football Association came to welcome their guests. The national team held three training sessions before the game itself, and the players made sure they did not miss the opportunity of a few hours sightseeing at the pyramids.

At his pre-match tactical briefing, Lumek told his players that the main threat from the Egyptians would be Mahmoud Mokhtar, who played for Arsenal Cairo and had earned himself the nickname `Prince of the Nile.' Lumek also told his players to be wary of Alexandrian midfielder Abdel Fawzi, whom he called one of the best players in the Arab world.

Another visitor at the team's hotel was Perry Neufeld, a professional player with Arsenal Cairo who came to visit Israel's goalkeeper, Willi Berger, an old friend from Hungary. Neufeld told the visiting players about the Egyptian team's strengths and made it quite clear the Israelis did not stand a chance. At the traditional pre-match tea party, the Egyptians' Scottish coach, James McRea, said his team would win by at least five goals.

On 16 March 1934 some 13,000 fans - including the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Farouk - gathered at the British Army sports ground in Cairo to watch this intriguing game. The army band played the national anthems and Hatikva rang out as the Israeli flag flew proudly.

Israel's starting line-up was Willi Berger (goalkeeper), Avraham Reznik (captain), Pinhas Fiedler, Zalman Friedmann, Gdalyahu Fuchs, Yohanan Sukenik, Amnon Harlap, Peri Kraus, Paul Kastenbaum, Chaim Reich and Avraham Nudelman.

Egypt swept into the game at a cracking pace and the Israelis barely got a look at the ball. Fuchs was tasked with marking Mahmoud Mokhtar but the star left the Israeli's head spinning on three occasions. Each time, he also managed also to beat the goalkeeper, giving the home side an early 3-0 lead. After that Egypt slowed the tempo.

Hapoel Tel Aviv's Sukenik tried his best to motivate his team mates but the Egyptian defense did not allow through a single goal-scoring opportunity. By the time English referee Stanley Wells blew the half-time whistle, Mostafa Kamel Taha had made it 4-0 for Egypt.

During half-time, the Israeli players were deeply embarrassed. The coach barked out his orders for the second half, but by now none of the players was listening.

The second half opened with another Egyptian onslaught. Mohamed Latif made it 5-0 and Taha added his second to make it 6-0 for Egypt. Nudelman scored the visitors' only goal of the game, dribbling through the Egyptian defense to score from close range. But the goal only seemed to anger the Egyptian players, however and Latif, with a 25 meter drive, slammed home the final goal for a 7-1 defeat of Israel.

In Tel Aviv, soccer fans were eagerly awaiting news of the national team's exploits. A member of the delegation that had traveled to Egypt had promised to call Sapir coffeehouse on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv with the final score. But before the real result came through, a rumor had swept around that Israel had beaten the mighty Egyptians 1-0. The young people who had gathered there began dancing and singing, but the bleak reality become known a few minutes later.

The return leg of the play-off - which Israel had to win by six goals to qualify for the World Cup finals - was to be played at Tamarim field on Tel Aviv's Shalosh Street, on April 6. There is now a parking lot where the pitch used to be. Some 10,000 people, curious to get a glimpse of the mighty team that had so humiliated the Israelis in Cairo, turned up for the game.

Coach Lumek made several changes and captain Avraham Reznik, Peri Kraus and Paul Kastenbaum all lost their places. Instead, Lumek called up David Weinberg, Yaacov Levi-Meir and Yaacov Zelibanski. Maccabi Jerusalem defender Pinhas Fiedler was handed the captain's arm band.

Fielder was one of the leading names in Israeli soccer during the 1920s and through the 1930s. He was killed during the War of Independence in the battle for Jerusalem.

The Israeli line-up was: Willi Berger (goalkeeper), David Weinberg, Pinhas Fiedler (captain), Zalman Friedmann, Gdalyahu Fuchs, Yohanan Sukenik, Amnon Harlap, Yaacov Levi-Meir, Yaacov Zelibanski, Haim Reich, Avraham Nudelman. The match was again refereed by an Englishman, John Goodski.

The Israeli team was wearing the same uniform as the English national team - white shirts and blues shorts - with a small piece of cloth sewn onto the breast of the shirt, bearing the words "Land of Israel" in Hebrew. The Egyptians wore red shirts, white shorts and black socks.

On the eve of the game, Tel Aviv mayor Meir Dizengoff held a tea party for both teams and the Egyptian monarch sent a telegram.

The game was similar to the first encounter in Cairo. Mahmoud Mokhtar opened the scoring early on, silencing the raucous home supporters. Latif, Mokhtar and Fawzi all scored again in the first half, to give the visitors a more than comfortable 4-0 lead at the break.

To all present it seemed inevitable that Israel was going to be on the receiving end of another humiliating score-line. But in the second half, the home team improved significantly. Goalkeeper Willi Berger proved that he was not so easy and with 20 minutes left to play, the home fans finally had something to cheer about. Yohanan Sukenik received a perfect pass from Yaacov Zelibanski and from fully 30 meters out, sent an unstoppable shot into the net. The final score was 4-1 to Egypt.

Egypt qualified for the 1934 World Cup, but was eliminated after just one game, losing 4-2 to Hungary. The Hungarians went all the way to the final, only to lose to host Italy.