BUENOS AIRES (JTA) — Around 4,000 Jewish Argentines showed up to cheer on Israel at their first appearance in a FIFA World Cup tournament in over 50 years, at times chanting songs in Spanish. But their festive mood changed after a Palestinian flag surfaced in the crowd — and after the Israeli team lost narrowly in the final minutes to Colombia.
On Sunday, Israel lost 2-1 in the first match of the first round of the U-20 World Cup, which features the world’s best soccer talent under 20 years old. When Colombia scored its first goal, in the second half of the game — after a first half that was dominated by Israel — supporters in a Colombian fan section raised a Palestinian flag.
Almost immediately, nearby Israel supporters in the stands began shouting at the flag bearer, saying “This is not politics, this is soccer.” Police eventually intervened and expelled the Palestinian flag holders.
Some Israeli fans followed them on their way out of the stadium in La Plata, in Buenos Aires province.
Israel last appeared in the general World Cup in 1970 and scored one goal in a game against Sweden. In the 56th minute of Sunday’s game, Dor Turgeman scored for Israel on a penalty kick.
Colombia answered with a penalty kick score and another goal at the very end of the game.
Nevertheless, the Israel Football Association thanked the “over 4,000 fans” who showed up to support the Israeli squad. The team next plays Senegal on Wednesday and Japan on Saturday; the two teams with the best results from the initial group stage will move on to the next round next week.
Former host country Indonesia had objected to Israel’s participation, arguing that it had agreed to host the tournament before knowing that Israel would qualify. In response, FIFA, the global soccer organization that runs the World Cup and its accompanying tournaments, stripped Indonesia of its hosting rights in March and moved the tournament to Argentina — a country home to over 200,000 Jews.
“We came here to win the trophy,” Israeli midfielder El Yam Kancepolsky told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last week.