LA PLATA, Argentina (JR) — Israel won third place in the U-20 World Cup on Sunday, capping a historic run in its first-ever appearance at the tournament by beating South Korea 3-1.
Local Jews and Israeli visitors made up a large portion of the crowd of over 15,000 at the stadium in La Plata, Argentina, a city about 40 miles outside of Buenos Aires. Israel’s success at the tournament, which is meant to showcase the next generation of global soccer stars, has been a galvanizing event for South American Jews.
“We were so welcomed,” Ofir Haim, the Israeli team’s coach, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after the match. “How they sing the [Israeli] national anthem, Hatikvah, is very moving for me and the players.”
He added, “At the 85th minute, I heard the fans singing the anthem. They created an atmosphere as if we were at home. It’s impossible to describe the feeling.”
The victory Sunday came at the end of a surprising string of wins for the Israeli team, which beat Uzbekistan and Japan before shocking Brazil, one of the world’s best teams, in the quarterfinals. Israel lost 1-0 in the semifinals earlier in the week to Uruguay, which won the tournament in a separate match on Sunday by beating Italy.
“Two days ago I was disappointed because we couldn’t reach the final,” El Yam Kancepolsky, an Israeli midfielder, told JR. “But now I’m very happy. Third place in the world is amazing.”
Roby Schindler, the president of Uruguay’s umbrella Jewish organization, the Comité Central Israelita de Uruguay, said this was the result he had been hoping for.
“I want Uruguay to be the world champion,” he said. “And I also want Israel to win third place.”
Israel won on Sunday thanks to goals from Ran Binyamin, Omer Senior and Anan Khalaili. The victory came despite a decision by the Israel Football Association to recall five of its key players from the tournament before the game so they could join Israeli teams ahead of upcoming matches in Europe.
And Israeli soccer got another piece of good news on Friday: Argentina’s national soccer team, which won last year’s World Cup, will play a friendly match in Israel next year.
“We are not players, we are a family with an amazing coach,” said midfielder Roy Navi. “I feel on the top of the world now.”