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Israel make their mark

Published: Tuesday 5 January 2010, 16.24CET
Football spread from the suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jaffa at the beginning of the last century.
Israel make their mark
The Israel team line up ahead of a match at the 1970 World Cup finals ©Popperfoto/Getty Images
Published: Tuesday 5 January 2010, 16.24CET

Israel make their mark

Football spread from the suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jaffa at the beginning of the last century.

At the beginning of the last century, football teams started to be formed in the suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jaffa, from where the game spread to other places in Eretz Israel – Palestine. These sides were fortified by recent immigrants from Europe, and in 1912 the first organised match took place between Maccabi Reihovot and a combined team of Maccabi Jaffa and Rishon Le Zion, who soon merged to become Maccabi Tel-Aviv.

A new era dawned after the First World War when Palestine came under a British mandate and games were played between Jewish, Arab and British sides (army and police). New Jewish teams were founded mainly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and in 1925 and 1926 relations were fostered with other nations, especially Austria as Hakoah Vienna became the first foreign side to visit the country. Meanwhile, Israel began to play home and away matches against teams from Austria, Lebanon and Egypt. This gave fresh impetus to football in Palestine.

In mid-August 1928, a general meeting was held to lay the groundwork for a national football association and to request affiliation to FIFA. On 6 June 1929, the Eretz Israel – Palestine Football Association was accepted as a full FIFA member. However, a properly organised national league commenced only in 1932, with the participation of nine clubs. Cup games preceded the league championship.

Football was the first sport to flourish in the wake of the War of Independence in 1948, and by October 1949 the leagues were again played to a normal schedule. A different demonstration of the fact the State of Israel was alive and kicking was the national team's tour of the United States in September 1948, following the state's creation.

Official international footballing contacts started in 1934. Since then, Israel have participated regularly in the qualifying competitions for the FIFA World Cup, reaching the final round in Mexico in 1970. As for the Olympic Games, Israel were among the last 16 for the first time in 1968, also in Mexico, and then again at Montreal in 1976.

Israel were an active member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) from 1956 onwards. In 1964 they won the AFC Asian Cup as hosts, and their youth teams lifted the AFC Youth Championship six times (1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1971 and 1972). However, Israel left the AFC in 1974 because of political issues.

Since 1991 Israel have been playing regularly in Europe and, after a lengthy procedure, the Israel Football Association became a full UEFA member in 1994. The country's major clubs, such as Maccabi Haifa FC, Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC and Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC, are gradually making their mark in the European competitions, with Maccabi Haifa twice progressing to the UEFA Champions League group stage and Hapoel Tel-Aviv getting to the UEFA Cup quarter-finals. On a national-team level, Israel's Under-21s qualified for the final tournament of the UEFA European U21 Championship in 2007 and will return to the finals in 2013 as hosts of a major UEFA competition for the first time.

Last updated: 12/03/14 16.01CET

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