THE 16th AFC Asian Cup, which kicked off in Melbourne last Friday night is, for the most part, a celebration of football’s uniting powers, but there is one country that is conspicuous in its absence.
Palestine, whose status as a nation-state is more than contentious, has a team vying for Asia’s most prestigious football honour.
Even isolationists North Korea are represented – but where is Israel?
One would rightly suggest that if Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon, who was knocked out during the qualifiers, are geographically in Asia then Israel would fall under the same zone.
In fact, not only was Israel one of the 12 original members of the AFC in 1954, the then fledgling nation was runner up in ’56 and ’60, and hosted the 1964 iteration, which it won.
Following on from this tournament, the AFC’s Arab members began to increasingly boycott games against Israel, meaning the side would advance through competitions at times without playing a single game.
This systematic ostracism of Israel from the AFC culminated in 1974 when it was officially excluded following a proposal by Kuwait to expel Israel, which was adopted after a vote of 17 to 13 with six absentees. The vote coincided with the 1974 Asian Games, where the football competition was tarnished by the refusal of both North Korea and Kuwait to play against Israel.
It must be said that Australia was not a member at the time as it was part of FIFA’s Oceania group until 2006.
With Israel in football federation limbo during the ’70s and ’80s, the nation briefly joined the Oceania pool as well, which comprised countries including Australia and New Zealand.
But logic prevailed and Israel was finally granted permission to join European football in 1992 and play under the auspices of the Union of European Football Association (UEFA).
An immeasurable step up in quality from Asian football, Israel is yet to win a major tournament or qualify for the World Cup since joining UEFA; but at least the opposition shows up.