Soccer in Israel

Soccer in Israel

“Israel is a difficult language, but everyone spoke soccer”, wrote Amir Ben Port in a paper on the history of soccer in Israel, and this seems to ring true, because soccer is one of the most popular sports in Israel. Soccer was played in Israel back in the beginning of the 20th century before the state was founded. Alongside teams in the 1930s the Israel national team, which despite its poor ability participated in the 1934 World Cup. Over the years, Israeli soccer has developed, and today, besides the Super League, which is the top league of soccer teams, there are lower, less professional leagues. The popularity of the sport has led in recent years to the building of international level stadiums whose purpose is to increase the number of spectators and provide soccer fans with proper facilities. These include the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, the Netanya Stadium and in the near future the Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv, which is currently being renovated and rebuilt.

The success of Israeli soccer is limited, and it seems that teams have not been able to rise to European standards. There are many reasons for this, but may also be related to the playing level of local teams and its national team, because despite its location in the Middle East, Israel plays in European rather than Asian associations. Israeli soccer teams participate in the European Champions Cup games, the Euro tournament and in World Cup fixtures. The matches against famous European teams and first-rate national teams in the world make it difficult for Israel to make a breakthrough and advance within these leagues. However, Israel’s playing in these competitions has some positive aspects – Israeli players are showcased to leading soccer promoters, and some of them get to play in Europe.




The Israeli national team founded in the 1930s, has had few successes in international tournaments. Besides winning the Asia Cup in 1964 and reaching the FIFA World Cup games in Mexico in 1970, the national team has not been able to win any recent European tournaments or the World Cup. However, high level international games have had a positive effect on soccer,– its standards have increased and especially the national team has started to play better. In 2008, Israel was ranked No. 15th in the FIFA global ranking, however this was short lived as today it is in the 40th place. Israelis are attached to their national team and it would seem that despite all the disappointments, the fans are continuing to support and accompany the national team everywhere.

Over the years, there have been teams that have been especially popular primarily due to their local league successes; these include Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem. These clubs are the largest soccer clubs in Israel and as such are trying to increase the standards of soccer by bringing in players and coaches from other major leagues in the world. Over the years, Israel has also exported a number of soccer players who have become successes in European soccer. Ronny Rosenthal is one of the trail blazers of Israeli soccer players, playing in the Belgian and English leagues for clubs such as Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. Eyal Berkovic, who played for Maccabi Haifa, gained success in the English league playing for Southampton, Westham and other teams. In 2009, he was chosen by the British newspaper The Times to be the tenth on the list of the greatest midfielders in Premier League’s history. Other famous players hailing from Israel are Yossi Benayoun who played for Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal and Haim Revivo, who played in Spain’s Celta de Vigo and in Turkey’s Besiktas.