Israel clinches 3rd place in soccer’s U-20 World Cup, capping thrilling run

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Israel’s national Under-20 soccer team clinched third place in the youth World Cup tournament on Sunday, ending its unprecedented run in the global competition with a 3-1 consolation match win against South Korea.

Uruguay and Italy were playing for the top spot later Sunday at La Plata’s Diego Maradona stadium in Argentina, with both sides eyeing their first World Cup Under-20 crown. This is the third time Uruguay reached the U-20 World Cup final — it was beaten on penalties by France in 2013, and by Argentina 2-1 in 1997.

The Israelis had stunned Brazil in the quarter-finals, but their charmed progress was stopped with a 1-0 defeat by Uruguay in the last four on Friday.

They responded to that semi-final defeat quickly by opening the scoring in Sunday’s third-placed play-off after 20 minutes, as midfielder Ran Binyamin hit home.

Four minutes later, South Korea equalized, as Seung-Won Lee converted a penalty.

Israel had the best of the second half and with 20 minutes remaining, forward Omer Senior had a goal disallowed for offside.

South Korea’s goalkeeper Kim Joon-hong can’t keep out a goal scored by Israel’s forward Omer Senior during the Argentina 2023 U-20 World Cup third-place match between Israel and South Korea in La Plata, Argentina, on June 11, 2023. (Luis ROBAYO / AFP)

Six minutes later, replacement Senior was on the scoresheet before Anan Khalaili made sure of victory with four minutes to play. He was then was yellow-carded for taking his shirt off while celebrating.

Throughout the weeks-long tournament, the Israeli squad pulled off a series of improbable wins, including the shock victory over powerhouse Brazil in the quarterfinals.

Israel barely reached the tournament’s stage of 16, starting the competition with a heartbreaking, last-minute defeat to Colombia in the first game and a lukewarm draw against Senegal in the second.

Israel’s forward Dor Turgeman (2-R) celebrates after scoring his team’s third goal during extra time of the Argentina 2023 U-20 World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Israel and Brazil, at the San Juan del Bicentenario stadium in San Juan, Argentina, on June 3, 2023. (Andres Larrovere/AFP)

But in the third and final group-stage match last week, the youth squad notched Israel’s first-ever win in any FIFA soccer World Cup, with a wild, come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Japan in stoppage time, finishing second in Group C and qualifying.

After that, the team continued its unlikely run last Tuesday with a 97th-minute goal to upend Uzbekistan 1-0 and reach the quarterfinal.

This year marks Israel’s first-ever trip to the U-20 World Cup. Its lone trip to the main World Cup in 1970 ended without a single win.

The tournament is being held in Argentina, after Indonesia was stripped of its spot as host and participant amid protests in the Muslim-majority country against hosting the Israeli team.

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