Should Is­rael be in the Euro­pean draw for the World Cup fi­nals?

The Jewish Chronicle - - News -

IS­RAEL’S CHANCES of reach­ing the World Cup fi­nals in Brazil in 2014 look slim af­ter be­ing drawn in Group F along­side Por­tu­gal and Rus­sia. North­ern Ire­land, Azer­bai­jan and Lux­em­bourg are also in the group. One UK book­maker makes Is­rael 20-1 out­siders to top the group and au­to­mat­i­cally qual­ify for the World Cup fi­nals for the first time since 1970, and 4-1 to fin­ish sec­ond and thus take part in the play-offs, prob­a­bly against one of Europe’s pow­er­houses.

It would be much eas­ier for Is­rael to reach Brazil if Yossi Be­nay­oun and co were play­ing in the Asia Con­fed­er­a­tion, which ex­pelled Is­rael in 1973. Yet even in the un­likely event that Mid­dle East peace ma­te­ri­alises, Is­raelis would re­ject re­join­ing Asia out of hand.

Is­rael joined Uefa in 1992, af­ter the col­lapse of the Soviet Union, which had rou­tinely ve­toed Is­rael’s can­di­dacy. Some sport­ing as­so­ci­a­tions such as bas­ket­ball had even joined their Euro­pean fed­er­a­tions be­fore the Soviet demise.

The odds of reach­ing the World Cup fi­nals may have length­ened but Euro­pean competition has its com­pen­sa­tions. Is­rael also takes part in the Euro foot­ball cham­pi­onships as well as a wide range of other na­tional com­pe­ti­tions, and will host the Euro 2013 Un­der-21 cham­pi­onships.

More sig­nif­i­cantly, Is­rael’s club sides get to play in the highly lu­cra­tive Cham­pi­ons League and Europa League. Is­raeli fans can rem­i­nisce about Hapoel Tel Aviv dump­ing Chelsea out of the Uefa Cup, or Mac­cabi Haifa ham­mer­ing Manch­ester United 3-0 in the Cham­pi­ons League.

In foot­ball, hope springs eter­nal and up­sets are likely. Avram Grant’s Is­rael was only beaten on goal dif­fer­ence to a World Cup 2006 play-off place. Be­sides, Is­raelis think of them­selves as be­ing in Europe rather than Asia, and com­pet­i­tive vis­its by the likes of Por­tu­gal’s Cris­tiano Ron­aldo help nur­ture the ge­o­graph­i­cal il­lu­sion.

Si­mon Griver is an Is­rael-based sports cor­re­spon­dent

WE KNOW that most Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries refuse to play Is­rael, but this is con­trary to Fifa’s “Say No to Racism” cam­paign and Ar­ti­cle 3 of the Fifa statute, which states that dis­crim­i­na­tion on ac­count of “eth­nic ori­gin, gen­der, lan­guage, re­li­gion, pol­i­tics or any other rea­son” is pun­ish­able by sus­pen­sion or ex­pul­sion.

Those coun­tries that ob­ject to play­ing against Is­rael should re­ally be ex­pelled from Fifa. But Iran, Saudi Ara­bia, Syria and Qatar are set to be­gin their 2014 qual­i­fiers. Is­rael’s only ap­pear­ance in the fi­nals was in Mex­ico in 1970, when they com­peted in the Asia qual­i­fy­ing sec­tion.

Which begs the ques­tion: how much bet­ter would Is­rael do if they were play­ing these far weaker Asian na­tions?

Is­rael is ranked 32 in the world. Of the 20 coun­tries in the Asian qual­i­fy­ing sec­tion only two, Aus­tralia (23) and Korea Repub­lic (28), are ranked above Is­rael. Had Is­rael been in the Asia qual­i­fy­ing sec­tion, they would have been seeded and, one imag­ines, would eas­ily have over­come the likes of Iran (54), Saudi Ara­bia (92), Syria (104), Qatar (90) and Thai­land (119). Thai­land are there by dint of just beat­ing Pales­tine (166) in the ear­lier elim­i­na­tion rounds.

But with Por­tu­gal (7) and Rus­sia (18) in Is­rael’s Euro­pean group, qual­i­fy­ing is go­ing to be very dif­fi­cult.

And what about next year’s Olympics? The Charter of the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee states that dis­crim­i­na­tion “on grounds of race, re­li­gion, pol­i­tics, gen­der or other­wise” is in­com­pat­i­ble with the Olympic Move­meWnt.

But Iran will not com­pete against Is­raeli ath­letes. At the re­cent swim­ming world cham­pi­onships in Shang­hai, an Ira­nian swim­mer, Mo­ham­mad Alirezaei, with­drew from a breast­stroke heat in which Is­rael’s Gal Nevo was swim­ming. He did the same at the Bei­jing Olympics in 2008. Most likely the shame of los­ing to Is­rael is the pri­mary mo­ti­va­tion.

Richard Mil­lett blogs at richard­mil­lett.word­

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