The time is upon Israel as we get to host a major international soccer tournament in the Holy Land! The Under-21 European Championship are set to kick off today with two matches with host Israel taking center stage against Norway in Netanya and a classic battle between Italy and England at Bloomfield stadium in Tel Aviv.
The Sports Rabbi will be heading out to the Tel Aviv tilt with his boys as we can’t wait for the arrival of the up and coming young stars such as Manchester United latest recruit Wilfred Saha and Thomas Ince as well as Italy’s Marco Verratti, Mattia Destro, Lorenzo Insigne & Ciro Immobile to name a few!
There has been great anticipation as we approach the opening bell to see how Israel stacks up against Europe’s top squads, how Israel will be able to handle a tournament of this magnitude and how much local and international publicity the tourney can garner.
Looking at the questions above we can say as follows:
1) Israel does bring a competitive club to the table with the likes of Eyal Golasa, Nir Biton and Taleb Twatha. These players along with others will be able to give Israel some experience, maturity and speed against the other teams. Playing Norway to open the tournament has its pluses and minuses. Norway, the weakest link of the 8 team tournament should provide Israel with 3 points and a win to begin the tournament which would then give Israel a nice boost before they head into their game versus Italy on Saturday night. A loss or draw however, will put a huge amount of pressure on the Blue & White and will find it very, very difficult to make it out of the first round and into the semi finals. So in essence this first game is a make it or break it for Team Israel.
2) So far it looks as if Israel has been able to handle the tournament, the logistics and activities that surround the U21’s. But the proof will be in the pudding as the matches get underway. The stadiums seem to be in tip top shape and games are only being hosted at the best pitches. That will be a plus to the play on the field, but I still question the crowd movement in and out of the stadiums including transportation and parking. A notice was put out the last couple of days that there will be shuttles from various points in cities hosting games. And in fact an add was placed in today’s sports sections with the shuttle route in Netanya, a stadium that has had notorious parking issues as well as gate problems this past domestic season.
3) On the international level, kudos have to go out to Avi Luzon chairman of the IFA who has single handedly brought this tournament to Israel and has been doping much in the European sphere to promote it as best as possible. Countries participating include Germany, Holland, Russia, Spain and the aforementioned Israel, Italy, Norway & England. Unfortunately, there have been the typical Anti-Israel, Anti-Zionist & Anti-Semetic pro-PLO groups trying to pressure some of the countries not to partake in the games, but these are just a misguided few though they always seem to get some kind of platform to spew their hatred towards the Jews & Israel.
Domestically this tournament seems to be a success with stadiums that will be nearly full for all of the games with a total of roughly 260K seats available at the 4 venues. Many games are already sold out and some are approaching capacity with roughly 200K tickets sold to the general public. Ticket prices were kept at a minimum and for example to take my 3 sons and myself to six games including the final at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem the total cost to me for the 24 tickets was about 750 NIS or $200, translating into $8 a ticket. I don;t think a better deal can be found!
So as we begin, the eyes of the world will be on Israel with fans and scouts aplenty trying to see if they will find the next Ronaldo or Messi, the only thing The Sports Rabbi can say is…
LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!!