Israel’s national youth soccer team made history over the weekend by becoming the first Israeli team to qualify for the semi-finals of the UEFA Under-19 European Championships in Slovakia.

Israel finished with a 2-2 draw against Serbia in its opening game of the competition on June 19 and was victorious 4-2 over Austria three days later. They lost 0-1 on Saturday to England, but still finished second in their grouping and qualified for the semi-finals.

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper congratulated the Israeli team on making it to the semi-finals. In a statement, he told the team, “You brought determination and the spirit of victory to the field and proved just how much you are real winners.”

Israel will compete against France in the semi-finals on Tuesday while England will go head-to-head with Italy. All four semi-finalists have qualified for the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Indonesia, set to take place next year.

The Israeli team’s coach Ofir Haim told Israel’s Kan News on Sunday that reaching the semi-finals is a “tremendously exciting” achievement for the athletes. He admitted that the Israeli soccer players will face strong opponents on the French team, but added, “In Israel, we don’t have the physical [ability] and speed of Europe … so we need to make up for it with intellect and wisdom and in other components, and in that we are better than everybody else.”

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