High-flying Uruguay midfielder VICTOR ESPARRAGO (right) of CF Nacional, who later spent six seasons in Spain with FC Sevilla and Real Recreativo de Huelva, sticks in his boot as the airborne Israel goalkeeper YITZHAK VISSOKER of FC Hapoel Petah Tikva bravely deals with the ball while West German-born defender ZVI COHEN (5) of FC Maccabi Tel Aviv watches during the 1970 FIFA World Cup, Group 2-opening match at the Estadio Cuauhtemoc in Puebla, Mexico.
For the national football team of ISRAEL, a flip of a coin in the Olympic quarterfinal against Bulgaria at the 1968 Summer Games hosted by Mexico City had not been favorable. Certainly, Israeli fortunes did not improve all that much two years later in terms of the draw for the 1970 FIFA World Cup final tournament, also to be held in Mexico. Without question, the Group 2 draw was treacherous — a pair of two-time World Cup titlists in Uruguay and Italy as well as another former beaten Finalist in Sweden.
There was no shame in a 2-0 loss to the always-formidable and notoriously uncompromising Uruguayans, winners of the very first World Cup in 1930 and champions again twenty years later, to open Group 2 in Puebla.
Israel fell behind shortly after halftime in the next match with Sweden on a goal scored by forward TOM TURESSON, a seasoned-professional with Club Brugge in Belgium. A second consecutive loss would have eliminated the World Cup novices from the tournament in Mexico immediately. Within minutes, however, Israel captain MORDECHAI SPIEGLER of FC Maccabi Netanya — still the national team’s all-time leading goal-scorer to this day — struck back for the equalizer in the inconclusive 1-1 draw at the Estadio Luis Dosal in Toluca.
Leaping sweeper SHMUEL ROSENTHAL of FC Hapoel Petah Tikva heads the ball away in front of club teammate and Israel goalkeeper ITZHAK VISSOKER against Uruguay in the Puebla World Cup match.
Which left Israel all to play for in the very last Group 2 game with the Italians, the World Cup champions from 1934 and 1938 who had fallen prey to a most shocking upset at the hands of communist North Korea in the previous edition of the FIFA World Cup held in England four years prior.
But Israel needed to win although doing such would place them first in the group on four points whereas the always-defensive-minded Italians, on the otherhand, could be content with a draw, which would give them four points to top the table. Clearly, the Israelis needed to score a goal at the minimum.
Would-be legendary netminder DINO ZOFF of SC Napoli did not let that happen although the Italians, for their part, failed to fire a ball into the net of Israel goalkeeper YITZHAK VISSOKER of FC Hapoel Petah Tikva, either, in the goalless draw. It was all the result that Italy, who would advance to the 1970 Final against mighty Brazil, needed, though. Nonetheless, just three goals conceded in only three games with just one loss in a very tough bracket was a very respectful record for Israel on its one and only ever appearance in a World Cup final tournament.
The national team of ISRAEL pause for the traditional team photograph just prior to the start of the 1970 FIFA World Cup, Group 2 match opposite 1958 World Cup finalist Sweden at the Estadio Luis Dosal in Toluca, Mexico.
Standing (left to right) —— Yitzhak VISSOKER (FC Hapoel Petah Tikva), Yisha’ayahu SCHWAGER (FC Maccabi Haifa), David PRIMO (FC Hapoel Tel Aviv), Yochanan VOLLACH (FC Hapoel Haifa), Zvi ROSEN (FC Maccabi Tel Aviv), Shmuel ROSENTHAL (FC Hapoel Petah Tikva)
Front (left to right) —— Itzhak SHUM (FC Hapoel Kfar Saba), Giora SPIEGEL (FC Maccabi Tel Aviv), captain Mordechai SPIEGLER (FC Maccabi Netanya), Yehoshua FEIGENBAUM (FC Hapoel Tel Aviv), Shraga BAR (FC Maccabi Netanya)
Eight players in the Startelf for German-born trainer EMMANUEL SCHEFFER’s side in the match against Sweden at Toluca had been members of the unlucky Israel Olympic football team at the Summer Games hosted by Mexico City two years earlier.
Three of the above — Olympic veterans Rosenthal, Spiegel and Spiegler — later broke new ground for Israel international footballers and signed contracts with elite professional clubs in Europe.