5 reasons to celebrate Lionel Messi's visit to Israel
A friendly match between Uruguay and Argentina is the perfect time to celebrate 'La Pulga' himself and Israel's love of soccer.
As international sports go, soccer has unequivocally conquered the world. It's also become a favorite pastime for hundreds of thousands of Israelis. Now, we look ahead to a visit from the Argentinian national team and its superstar, Lionel Messi, for a friendly against Uruguay at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv on Nov. 19. For fans of football in Israel, it could be a rare chance to see Messi in action.
In the meantime, here are a few illuminating facts about Israeli soccer that you might not have known.
1. This would not be Messi's first visit to Israel.
FC Barcelona forward Lionel Messi (left) takes part in a coaching clinic and mini-game at Bloomfield Stadium in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv in 2013. (Photo: Jack Guez / AFP/Getty Images)
Messi, who plays for the Barcelona club team, visited Israel in 2013, sending starstruck Israeli soccer fans pouring into the streets to try to catch a glimpse of him. In November, Messi will be representing his home country of Argentina at the game in Tel Aviv. Argentina has won two World Cups; Uruguay has won none.
2. Messi's rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, also visited Israel.
Ronaldo arrived with his Portuguese national team to play Israel in 2013, to the delight of Israeli devotees. A few years later, Ronaldo starred in a quirky commercial for Israeli telecommunications company HOT, appearing alongside three Israeli comedians who praise his speed.
3. Former Brazilian star Ronaldinho opened a world-class training facility there.
Ronaldo de Assis Moreira – known to his fans simply as Ronaldinho – is hoping to use his fame to attract a new generation into the sport. He was in Israel last year to help launch the Ronaldinho Soccer Academy for kids age 6 to 16. Recently he returned to Haifa, taking part in a sports initiative promoting peace and brotherhood between Spain and Israel.
"I see the school as a first-class educational tool that helps in acquiring skills, tools for life, discipline, teamwork and more," Ronaldinho said at a news conference in Tel Aviv. "Israel has a tremendous potential, countless talents and a great love for the game.”
4. The Israeli Premier League consistently ranks in the top half of domestic leagues in Europe.
Tel Aviv's supporters cheer on their team during the UEFA Europa League group D football match between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Dundalk at Netanya Stadium in Netanya on December 8, 2016. (Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Cementing its status as the oldest, largest and most decorated club in Israeli soccer, Tel Aviv Maccabi's consistent appearance in European tournaments has made it the global ambassador of the sport in Israel. Its status as a worldwide soccer brand that transcends the domestic playing field can be witnessed in the fact that even its personnel is high-profile: Jordi Cruyff, the son of one of the 20th century's great soccer icons, Johan Cruyff, is currently the director of the club.
5. You'll find several state-of-the-art soccer stadiums throughout the country.
Aside from Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, a 13,000-seat complex in Netanya hosts three professional soccer teams. And if your fanhood extends anywhere beyond the pitch, there are also pro basketball, handball and baseball teams there. All told, Netanya – and its state-of-the-art venue – encompass a sports lover's paradise.
Back in Jerusalem, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft built a sports complex that's home to multiple soccer fields and a football stadium.
Then there's Sammy Ofer Stadium, a 30,870-seat multi-purpose stadium in Haifa. Its first match housed in the brand-new complex was played on Nov. 16, 2014, against Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying match. Israel won 3-0 surrounded by a sold-out crowd, resulting in an atmosphere beyond compare.
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