After a crushing loss to Greece, it’s almost certain that Israel will once again fail to qualify for the World Cup. Israel is by no means a soccer power, but their qualifying road is harder than it should be.
For years, Israel competed within the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) because doing so made perfect geographic sense. Israel is, after all, an Asian nation. Eventually, though, Arab states hostile to Israel, starting with Kuwait at the 1974 Asian Games, refused to take the pitch against them. Rather than award forfeit victories to Israel, the AFC capitulated and expelled Israel from Asian football. As a consequence, the Israeli national team was–to borrow the obvious yet fitting metaphor–forced to wander the soccer wilderness for years.
In the 1980s, this led to the absurdity of having Israel compete in the Oceania qualifying group against distant countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. Finally, in the early 1990s, Israel became a member of UEFA, which meant toiling against the august European powers of the sport. And those are Israel’s unenviable straits today.
For the 2010 qualifiers, FIFA placed Israel in a group with Greece (FIFA world ranking: 19), Switzerland (22), Latvia (71), Moldova (98), and Luxembourg (121). Had Israel not been exiled from the Asian football circuit–where they logically belong–they’d be presently competing with AFC Group A teams like Australia (ranking: 32), Japan (35), Bahrain (67), Uzbekistan (74), and Qatar (87); or AFC Group B teams like Iran (42), South Korea (44), Saudi Arabia (55), North Korea (107), and UAE (116). Israel, who’s ranked 18th, would’ve had a measurably easier route to the World Cup had they been allowed to compete on their own continent.
If nothing else, the Israeli athletes deserve a fairer shake.