Soccer in a Strange Land
Ever since I started following soccer, I have wondered why Israel competes against European soccer teams for World Cup qualification. Israel borders Syria and Jordan but plays against teams such as Russia and Sweden. Why doesn’t Israel play its World Cup qualifiers with the rest of its neighboring countries?
The Israeli national team was kicked out of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) because a majority of Middle Eastern teams refused to play against them. Before Israel’s exile, it was an integral part of the AFC. For twenty years, Israel was a footballing mainstay in Asia. They hosted and won the AFC Asian Cup in 1964 and qualified for their first ever World Cup in 1970. Despite this golden age of football, anti-Zionism in Middle Eastern nations was rising to the surface. More and more Arab teams refused to play Israel. The breaking point was in 1973, when Israel fought a war against an Arab coalition led by Syria and Egypt on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
After the war, Arab
governments refused to recognize
or negotiate with Israel. The AFC
then voted to expel Israel from
its organization, forcing the
soccer team to wander around
Oceania and Europe, looking for