On a lighter note, as a diversion from all the more serious news in the world, today Israel’s national soccer (or “football”) team faces off against Portugal in a qualifying game for the 2014 World Cup. You may be wondering: Does Israel have any chance of advancing to the World Cup?
Short answer: Yes, but the odds are slim.
Long answer: The last (and first) time Israel went to the World Cup was 1970, when it lost one game and tied two. Even though Israel is in the Middle East (aka “West Asia”), for soccer purposes it competes as part of the Union of European Football Associations.
With two games left to play in the current round of the qualification, Israel is in third place in its group, behind Russia and Portugal. At the end of the day, the first-place team in each group automatically goes to the World Cup, and the second-place team has a chance to fight over a limited number of additional spots against the other second-place teams. Third prize is you’re fired.
What would it take for Israel to jump into first or second place? At minimum, Israel has to win today against Portugal, and win its final game next week against Northern Ireland.
But that’s not enough – it depends what happens in Portugal’s last game (against Luxembourg), and Russia’s two games (against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan).

  • If Portugal loses to Luxembourg, and Russia loses both its games: Israel is tied for 1st with Russia. Ties are broken by the total goal difference for all games, and Israel is currently behind Russia by 6, so Israel needs to score high to make it into 1st. Otherwise Israel ends up in 2nd, and still has a chance.
  • If Portugal loses to Luxembourg, and Russia wins or ties either game: Israel finishes in 2nd.
  • If Portugal ties with Luxembourg, and Russia loses both games: There is a 3-way tie for 1st, settled by total goal difference. Israel is currently behind Russia by 6, and behind Portugal by 3.
  • If Portugal ties with Luxembourg, and Russia wins or ties either game: Israel is tied for 2nd with Portugal.
  • If Portugal beats Luxembourg, and Russia loses both games: Israel is tied for 2nd with Russia.
  • If anything else happens: Goodbye, Israel. Better luck in 2018.

Israel’s neighbors Jordan and Egypt are also still in the running (to represent Asia and Africa, respectively), so if everything aligns, it could end up being a block party. But one thing is certain: next week, Israelis across the political spectrum will be cheering for Luxembourg.