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Football in Israel

Football (כדורגל, Kaduregel) is the unofficial national sport of Israel. Football as an organised sport first developed in England who controlled Israel during the days of the British Mandate.

The Israel Football Association

The Israel Football Association (IFA) is the governing body of football in the State of Israel. All of Israel's professional football clubs must be members, and hundreds of semi-professional and amateur clubs also belong.

League system

The Israeli football league system has six levels and 16 different divisions, all run by the IFA. Promotion and relegation operates between each level, theoretically allowing clubs to progress from bottom to top within six seasons.


The structure of the Israeli league system is thus:

  • Israeli Premier League: the top division operates at the national level and has 12 member clubs
  • Liga Leumit: the second division operates at the national level and has 12 member clubs
  • Liga Artzit: the third division operates at the national level and has 12 member clubs
  • Liga Alef: the fourth division is split into two regional leagues (north and south) and has 28 member clubs (14 in each division)
  • Liga Bet: the fifth division is split into four regional leagues (two in the north, two in the south) and has 64 member clubs (16 in each division)
  • Liga Gimel: the sixth division is split into six regional leagues


In Israel, there are two major cup competitions, the State Cup and the Toto Cup

State Cup

The State Cup (גביע המדינה, Gvia HaMedina) is the Israeli equivalent of the English FA Cup, and is open to all Israeli clubs, with clubs at the higher levels entering in the later rounds. It is a straightforward knock-out cup. The final is played at the National Stadium and the winner qualifies for the UEFA Cup.

Toto Cup

The Toto Cup (גביע הטוטו, Gvia HaToto) is the Israeli equivalent of a League Cup, the main difference being that there is a separate cup for each of the three national divisions. The cup is played first in a group stage, with the highest placed teams qualifying for the knock-out stages. Like the State Cup, the final is played at the National Stadium, though the winner does not qualify for the UEFA Cup.

Qualification for European competitions

Clubs who do well in either the Premier League or State Cup qualify to compete in various UEFA-organised Europe-wide competitions in the following season (as well as continuing to play in domestic competitions). The number of Israeli clubs playing in Europe in any one season can range from four to six, depending on the qualification scenarios. Currently, Israel is awarded the following places in European competitions:

Competition Who Qualifies Notes
UEFA Champions League Premier League champions
UEFA Cup Clubs finishing 2nd or 3rd or 4th in Premier League If the third-placed club has already qualified for Europe through the State Cup, then the next-highest Premier League finishers get this place
State Cup winners
Any Israeli club that wins the UEFA Cup and has not already qualified for the Champions League or UEFA Cup By the UEFA Cup regulations (Regulation 1.07), this club's entry into the UEFA Cup will not be at the expense of any other entries to which its national federation is entitled
UEFA Intertoto Cup Club finishing highest in the Premier League to have entered and not qualified for any other European competition

In addition, once in a European competition, it becomes possible to qualify for others:

  • All the winners of the Champions League Third Qualifying Round go forward to the Champions League
  • All the losers of the Champions League Third Qualifying Round go forward to the UEFA Cup
  • All the winners of the UEFA Cup Second Qualifying Round go forward to the UEFA Cup
  • All the winners in the Intertoto Cup Final Round go forward to the UEFA Cup Second Qualifying Round
  • Any clubs playing in the Champions League that finish third in the group stage go into the UEFA Cup Third Round

Israel national team

The Israel national football team played their very first international football match in Cairo, against Egypt in 1934 as Palestine/Eretz Yisrael. Their greatest triumph to date was qualifying for the World Cup in 1970.


British Mandate

During the British Mandate of Palestine, organized football consisted of British and Jewish clubs. As early as 1906, Maccabi Tel Aviv was formed as a social group. On April 24, 1924 history was made when Hapoel Haifa was formed. Shortly after formation they joined the World Maccabi Organization. The first membership cards read, "Club Hapoel Sport, Cultural Organization Haifa" (A member of the World Maccabi Organization). Later during a meeting of Hapoel laborers in Afula, it was decided to break off from the World Maccabi Organization and create the Hapoel (Labor) Organization.

In February 1928, the first ever derby took place in the British Mandate between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Allenby Tel Aviv. Maccabi won 3-0 and was the start to the oldest rivalry that takes place today, in modern day Israel.

When a cup competition was formed, British teams dominated until 26 May 1928 when two Jewish clubs made it to the final in Jerusalem. Hapoel Allenby Tel Aviv beat Maccabi HaShmonai Jerusalem by a score of 2-0, but the cup was shared since Maccabi alleged to British officials that Hapoel had fielded an ineligible player.

Nine teams started the first league in 1932. The first winner of the league were the British Police who, under the guidance of Police Chief Speiser, were the best organised club in the country. Later he would serve as the first chairman of the football association.

During the mandate period, the international team competed under the title of Palestine, despite operating as a virtually all-Jewish organisation. The first international match was a qualifying match for the 1934 World Cup qualifier between Palestine and Egypt in Cairo, which resulted in a 7-1 defeat. The second leg, played in Tel Aviv, resulted in a 4-1 defeat and an 11-2 aggregate loss. Earlier, in 1931 a mixed team of Palestinian Jews and British played an international.

One of the first big tours of the international team was to Australia on the eve of World War II. The team was composed of players from both Hapoel and Maccabi organizations. Three players eventually ended up staying in Australia, two of those (Avraham Beit Halevi, and Menahem Marimovich) died while serving in the Australian army in attacks against the Japanese.


Just four months after Israel gained independence, the Israel national football team traveled to New York City to play their American counterparts in a friendly at the Polo Grounds. Over 40,000 spectators (mostly American Jews), witnessed the newly formed Israeli side lose to the Americans 3-1. Shmuel Ben Dror went down in history as the first goal scorer in the history of the Israel national football team.


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