Should Israel be in the Asian qualifying section for the World Cup Finals?

Israel at the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico.

Israel at the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico.

Last Saturday night the draw took place for the qualifying rounds of the 2014 World Cup finals and the Jewish Chronicle has published my piece about Israel being disadvantaged by playing in the European qualifying section, as opposed to the Asian qualifying section.

They put my piece up against an excellent one by Simon Griver, an Israel-based sports correspondent, and are conducting a poll: Should Israel be in the Asian World Cup group?

At the moment the “Yeas” have it 59% to 41%.

Thanks to CifWatch for the idea for my piece.

Champagne all round if my argument has continued to win out by next week.

Should Israel be in the European qualifying section for the World Cup finals?

No (me):

We know that most Middle Eastern countries refuse to play Israel, but this is contrary to Fifa’s “Say No to Racism” campaign and Article 3 of the Fifa statute, which states that discrimination on account of “ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason” is punishable by suspension or expulsion.

Those countries that object to playing against Israel should really be expelled from Fifa. But Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Qatar are set to begin their 2014 qualifiers.

Israel’s only appearance in the finals was in Mexico in 1970, when they competed in the Asia qualifying section. Which begs the question: how much better would Israel do if they were playing these far weaker Asian nations?

Israel is ranked 32 in the world. Of the 20 countries in the Asian qualifying section only two, Australia (23) and Korea Republic (28), are ranked above Israel. Had Israel been in the Asia qualifying section, they would have been seeded and, one imagines, would easily have overcome the likes of Iran (54), Saudi Arabia (92), Syria (104), Qatar (90) and Thailand (119). Thailand are there by dint of just beating Palestine (166) in the earlier elimination rounds.

But with Portugal (7) and Russia (18) in Israel’s European group, qualifying is going to be very difficult.

And what about next year’s Olympics? The Charter of the International Olympic Committee states that discrimination “on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise” is incompatible with the Olympic Movement.

But Iran will not compete against Israeli athletes. At the recent swimming world championships in Shanghai, an Iranian swimmer, Mohammad Alirezaei, withdrew from a breaststroke heat in which Israel’s Gal Nevo was swimming. He did the same at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Most likely the shame of losing to Israel is the primary motivation.

Yes (Simon Griver):

Israel’s chances of reaching the World Cup finals in Brazil in 2014 look slim after being drawn in Group F alongside Portugal and Russia.

Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg are also in the group. One UK bookmaker makes Israel 20-1 outsiders to top the group and automatically qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time since 1970, and 4-1 to finish second and thus take part in the play-offs, probably against one of Europe’s powerhouses.

It would be much easier for Israel to reach Brazil if Yossi Benayoun and co were playing in the Asia Confederation, which expelled Israel in 1973. Yet even in the unlikely event that Middle East peace materialises, Israelis would reject rejoining Asia out of hand.

Israel joined Uefa in 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had routinely vetoed Israel’s candidacy. Some sporting associations such as basketball had even joined their European federations before the Soviet demise.

The odds of reaching the World Cup finals may have lengthened but European competition has its compensations. Israel also takes part in the Euro football championships as well as a wide range of other national competitions, and will host the Euro 2013 Under-21 championships.

More significantly, Israel’s club sides get to play in the highly lucrative Champions League and Europa League. Israeli fans can reminisce about Hapoel Tel Aviv dumping Chelsea out of the Uefa Cup, or Maccabi Haifa hammering Manchester United 3-0 in the Champions League.

In football, hope springs eternal and upsets are likely. Avram Grant’s Israel was only beaten on goal difference to a World Cup 2006 play-off place. Besides, Israelis think of themselves as being in Europe rather than Asia, and competitive visits by the likes of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo help nurture the geographical illusion.

8 responses to “Should Israel be in the Asian qualifying section for the World Cup Finals?

  1. If I were an Israeli, then I’d definitely want to them to play in Asia but as a life long lover of football, I don’t think I’d be able to stomach the way at least 20+ nations from the Asian section would bring politics into the game e.g. Malaysia booing Benayoun. I wish FIFA would grow a pair, the way these nations treat Israel completely goes against everything the beautiful game stands for and promotes.

    • FIFA grow a pair? Get real. FIFA and UEFA and the Olympics honchos are just a bunch of slimeballs.

  2. The question is simple be a big fish in a small pool or a small fish in a big one. Or perhaps a better analogy. To be in the middle of the top class at school or at the top of the also-rans?

  3. Israelinurse

    Logic would definitely say that we should be in Asia. Decency would say that any team within that group refusing to play against us should automatically forfeit the match and the points be given to Israel – that’s the only way of making a stand against racism in football.
    On the other hand, if we did play in the Asia group, Israeli fans would be unable to travel to support their team in the majority of cases because of the fact that Israelis are barred from entering so many of the neighbouring countries, and that would automatically put the team at an unfair disadvantage.
    So I guess we’ll have to stay in Europe for the meantime at least.
    Two of my boys travelled to Old Trafford in September 2002 to see the Maccabi Haifa vs Man U match. We were watching the game here, of course, but there’s a slight time delay even in live matches, so their hysterical phone call as Haifa scored that first goal actually came through before we saw it happen on the screen.

  4. Has Israel ever been asked to join the EU? If Turkey is/was under consideration, then surely Israel should be too. Re the football, I agree with Israelinurse, let those countries not willing to play against Israel be docked the points. I’d go even further, let them be banned from all further international football events. It happened to South Africa after all

    • From what I heard on radio Israel joining the EU is discussed of and on. As far as I understood the problems with her joining are not whether she’d meet the standards (as it is with Turkey) but whether it would be good politics for either one.

      One of the former Israeli ambassadors to Germany (I forgot his name) is always advising Israel on German radio to move closer to the EU. I don’t know what he is telling Israel in Israel.

    • Let them be banned, yes, for racism and apartheid.

      Join the EU? Why stick your head into a leprous bed?

  5. I would rather play in the middle of the top league than be top of the middle league.