Israel made soccer history on Saturday night at the Under-20 World Cup in Argentina, rallying late while a man down to beat Japan 2-1.
The win was Israel’s first-ever at any FIFA World Cup, having tied two games and lost the other in its only other appearance in any such competition, the main World Cup event in 1970.
Its chances dimmed significantly after conceding a first half stoppage-time goal to Isa Sakamoto, and then in the 68th minute going down to 10 men to Japan’s 11 when Ran Binyamin received his second yellow card for a foul and was sent off.
Nevertheless, Aharon Roy Nawi Nabi scored following a free kick in the 76th minute, setting the stage for another stoppage-time goal in the 92nd and what coach Ofir Haim called the greatest victory in Israeli soccer history.
“This was a heroic win, the greatest match in the history of Israeli soccer,” he said while forcing back tears. “This is for all of Israel, I dedicate this to you. I have no words, the players have a big heart and soul.”
The final Group C standings had Colombia in first place with seven points, Israel second with four, Japan third with three and Senegal last with two. The top two teams in each group advance to the knockout stage.
Israel now faces off against Uzbekistan on Tuesday with a place in the quarterfinals up for grabs.
Argentina had not initially been 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 Israeli 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.