Israel to compete in first-ever international football game

Israeli national football team NERIA GRANEVICH PHOTO

In 2005, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft arrived in Israel for the unveiling of the then-newly renovated Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem, the only arena in the Jewish state that provides Israelis with the opportunity to play a good old-fashioned game of tackle football.

From the outset, Kraft's intention for the stadium was abundantly clear: to foster and promote American football in Israel. Ten years later, it seems his dream is finally coming to fruition.

In a historically significant announcement, the Israeli Football League (IFL) announced recently that the country's national team would be participating in its first-ever international game, competing against Spain this Sunday. Some of Israel's best and brightest players were recruited for the team, and if they prove victorious, they secure a spot in Group B of the European section of the International Federation of American Football.

One of the team's newest additions is former University of Michigan quarterback Alex Swieca, who earned the rank as MVP during his season with the Israeli league's Jerusalem Lions in 2011-12. "I am so excited to have an opportunity to represent Israel in Europe with my fellow teammates," Swieca said to reporters. "But I am also hoping to spend time this year promoting American Football throughout Israel and getting even more Israelis excited about the sport.”

Other members of the national team include three-time IFL MVP Dani Eastman of the Judean Rebels, Tel Aviv Pioneers' middle linebacker Asaf Katz and professional soccer goalie Gal Mesika, whose athletic skills have proven interchangeable. 

Yonah Mishaan will serve as the team's coach.

"It really isn’t just 'American' Football anymore," said IFL commissioner Betzalel Friedman. "The International Federation of American Football includes at least 71 countries worldwide, over 30 in Europe and including Middle Eastern countries like Egypt, Turkey and Kuwait."

The IFL currently boasts nine teams, up from four since the inaugural 2007 season.

If the Israelis manage to defeat the Spaniards, they will qualify to play in an international tournament next year that includes six other countries. To watch Sunday's match at Madrid's Ciudad Deportiva Prado Stadium – kickoff unfortunately is at 6:00 a.m. EST – visit here.

The announcement comes just days after Patriots' wide receiver Julian Edelman unveiled a video documenting his first trip to Israel. With both him and Kraft promoting Israeli football, you can expect the country to participate in many more international games in the future.