Israel kicks off its FIFA Under-20 World Cup campaign against Colombia on Sunday after qualifying for the tournament for the first time.
Argentina was not slated to host the event but it was moved there after FIFA took it away from Indonesia following objections by the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country to Israel’s participation.
The soccer team made waves last year after making it to the finals of the 2022 UEFA European Under-19 Championship in Slovakia, where it took England to extra time before giving up two goals to the Brits.
Argentina is home to the largest Jewish community in Latin America, with most residing in the capital Buenos Aires. Around 80 members of the community greeted the Israelis upon their arrival on Monday and held a two-hour event at the team’s hotel.
“We knew that Indonesia would reject us but we were confident to represent Israel with pride everywhere,” manager Ofir Haim said at the welcome event. Haim guided the team during their phenomenal run at the 2022 U-19s.
Sunday’s match against Colombia at Estadio Único Diego Armando Maradona in the city of La Plata is the first for Israel in Group C, which also features Senegal and Japan. There are six groups. The top two teams of each group and the four best third-placed teams will advance to the round of 16.
“We came here to win the trophy,” midfielder El Yam Kancepolsky, 19, told JTA. “I’m very proud to represent Israel in a World Cup, it is a huge dream.”
Kancepolsky, who was born in Hawaii and grew up in Herzliya, plays for Israeli Premier League club Hapoel Tel Aviv.