Football’s most inhospitable host?
Indonesian officials couldn’t have guessed who would qualify for their FIFA U-20 World Cup. Now, they might be left without a tournament.
Indonesia’s getting ready to host next year’s World Cup for under-20s, the first-ever FIFA tournament to be played in their country. Jakarta’s Gelora Bung Karno stadium is set to host the tournament’s opener, the home side relishing the chance to play in front of nearly 80,000 spectators. However, these plans have been thrown in the air after the unlikely qualification of another nation: Israel.
When Israel played its last FIFA tournament back in 1970, it was still a member of the Asian Football Confederation. During Israel’s time with AFC, several countries boycotted their matches with Israel, refusing to compete on political grounds. Indonesia was one of them in 1957 as Israel almost qualified for the World Cup without kicking a ball (FIFA intervened and threw Wales on their path). Soon after their one and only FIFA World Cup presence, Israel was excluded from all continental competitions, forced to play in Europe’s and Oceania’s World Cup qualifiers before joining UEFA in the 1990s.
Israel had not qualified for any FIFA tournaments as an UEFA member until its U-19 side beat Austria 4-2 to seal a position in the European Championship’s knockout stage last summer. Israel’s youngsters then edged France to set up a final against England, where they battled onto extra time and eventually lost 3-1. It was Israel’s second ever appearance in the Championship, having lost all three group stage matches in 2014.
That feat earned them the right to play next summer, much to the apparent dismay of several Indonesian figures. While a government minister promised Israel a secure participation in the tournament, several local media outlets have opposed Israel’s participation. Bali’s governor asked for a ban on any Israeli teams competing in his province, forcing FIFA to cancel the group stage draw scheduled to take place this week in Bali’s capital Denpasar.
Indonesian authorities now face an uphill battle to bring their hosting plans back on track. One of their plans involve their neighbours Singapore hosting Israel’s matches, which could mean the Gelora Bung Karno loses out on the tournament’s opener — or a last-minute scramble to find an alternative final venue if the Israeli side were to beat expectations again. Qatar, which had pledged to welcome Israeli footballers had they qualified for the 2022 World Cup, is hoping to take over as hosts.
Read also: That Egypt-Israel match that never happened