NEW YORK − For the first time in more than 35 years, the Israel national soccer team will play a friendly in New York Sunday night, squaring off against a strong Honduras side as part of its preparations for the upcoming World Cup matches.
After their recent games against Portugal and Northern Ireland, the blue-and-whites sit in second place, tied with Portugal on 11 points from six matches. Russia, which has won every one of its matches thus far, paces the group with 12 out of a possible 12 points.
Coach Eli Guttman, who admitted that his team started the campaign in poor form, knows that the game against Honduras, ranked 50th in the world and coming off some impressive results of its own, will be no formality.
“I know that Honduras is a good team. They are in a very good situation in their qualification group. But we are coming here and we want to leave proud after the game,” he said.
The game will be played Sunday night in New York − early Monday morning Israel-time.
Captain Yossi Benayoun spoke about the excitement of playing in front of a large Jewish community in New York, mentioning that it’s great for the fans to be able to connect and see the national team in person. Tal Ben Haim said the team is “very happy to be in New York.”
“We know that many people want to come and watch the game, so we have to be very competitive against a very good side,” he said.
Mevy Azaria, CEO of MCI Sport, was responsible for bringing the teams together. He specifically selected New York because of the demographics there and said he believes the event will be very well received.
“We needed to find a place where there would be a lot of Jewish fans to welcome the Israel NT, and of course it makes economic sense because there are a lot of expenses when organizing such a big match,” he said. “We are looking to break even and to find a way to make it a big success.”
Azaria also conceded that once it became clear the game would coincide with the annual Israel Day Parade down 5th Avenue, they crafted Celebrate Israel weekend and worked together to market and promote both events.