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As the 20th World Cup kicks off in Sao Paolo on Thursday night with hosts Brazil facing Croatia, Israel will be chalking up its 44th year of hurt since its one and only appearance at the finals, in Mexico, 1970. (And if you think Israel is disappointed not to be in Brazil, just think how annoyed newspaper headline writers are that Christopher Samba and his Congo side didn’t qualify.)
Given the number of soccer fans in Israel, the Star of David doubtless will be spotted at various venues, but that’s exactly what Israel is yet again at a major tournament: a spectator. Even Israeli technology has a watching brief to help the event run smoothly, courtesy of surveillance-systems experts NICE and drone manufacturer Elbit – the Israeli national side can only dream of being so good in the air, in both offense and defense.
Still, at least there is one player flying the flag for Israel’s top league at the World Cup – Nigerian goalkeeper Austin Ejide, who has spent the last couple of seasons at Hapoel Be’er Sheva and will likely be warming the bench in Brazil. Especially after this recent slip-up in a friendly against Scotland (the referee took pity on him and disallowed the goal, although the incident did nothing to dispel rumors of match-fixing within the game, this one in particular):
To put the Israeli league’s single representative into perspective, though, there are two players at the World Cup – both Australian – plying their trade in England’s third division (League 1), while one league club – Germany’s Bayern Munich – is contributing 14 players to various international sides (it would have been 15 if French winger Franck Ribéry hadn’t withdrawn through injury).
The good news for Israel is that European football’s top banana (kick), Michel Platini, wants to increase the number of participating teams for the 2018 finals in Russia to 40. Best make it 64, just to be on the safe side. Even better: Move Israel back into the Asia qualifying zone, and watch it rack up the points as other countries default by refusing to play “the Zionist regime.”
We’ll be updating this page as the tournament progresses, so check back to see if we manage to score any Israeli/Jewish angles, no matter how tenuous. Like: That Leo Messi – didn’t he see a Jewish doctor when he was a kid?
In the meantime, for anyone who needs a primer on FIFA and the World Cup, look no further than this wonderful John Oliver piece from “Last Week Tonight.” After watching this, you’ll realize it’s only a matter of time before football’s governing body becomes the villainous organization in a James Bond movie: