Yesterday evening, Israel’s national soccer team lost 1-0 to Spain, ending its dream of playing in the 2018 World Cup and marking 48 years without an appearance in the sport’s most prestigious tournament.
How bad was the loss? Nearly all of the fans who attended the game wore Real Madrid and Barcelona jerseys. The game was held in Jerusalem.
How bad was the loss? The crowd cheered any time Sergio Ramos had the ball, figuring that if they couldn’t expect their team to win, at least they could take some comfort in watching a real soccer player play real soccer.
How bad was the loss? It was the team’s seventh straight defeat at home, and almost certainly the last featuring Elisha Levy, the team’s affable but unfortunate manager.
How bad was the loss? It was existentially excruciating, not because anyone expected Israel to beat the far superior Spaniards, but because everyone believed the Blue-and-Whites should at least be contenders. And why shouldn’t they? When Israelis have set their minds to dominating international industries—see under: High Tech, Television, Being Wonder Woman—they’ve flourished. And the team has always had its share of talented players poached by some of the world’s finest club. Why, then, does the team falter?
As of yesterday evening, the question remains unanswered. Maybe it’s the country’s notoriously dysfunctional sports culture, which—with one or two obvious exceptions—has little patience for strategy, training, and just about any other staple of professional sports. Maybe it’s some inexplicable psychological barrier that makes the Jewish State’s eleven emissaries fold every time they take to the pitch, even if the rival team—like Albania’s, say, which had bested Israel in the qualifying round—is far weaker. Maybe it’s that soccer really is too closely related to war, and maybe Israelis haven’t yet learned how to wage war without actually waging war. Whatever the reason, the future looks grim.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly reported that, following the game, an Israeli fan had burst into the pitch carrying a knife. Subsequent reports do not support this allegation. We regret the error.