There's so much awful news out of Israel recently that it's painful to even summarize. An infant run over at a light rail station. Soldiers run over waiting for a bus. A man stabbed in the back with a screwdriver. Four people shot and hacked to death in a synagogue during morning prayers this morning.
It is impossible to forget these heinous acts of terror.
At the same time, life goes on in face of, and despite, the ultimate evil of terrorism and the twin specters of a nuclear Iran and a rampant ISIS looming on the dusty horizon.
Case in point: on Saturday evening in Haifa, over 32,000 fans packed the new Sammy Ofer Stadium to watch Israel's national team take on Bosnia and Herzegovina in a qualifying match for the 2016 European Championship. Israel entered the game with not only two wins in two games (albeit against Cyprus and Andorra), but also a long tradition of coming up small in big games.
Not this time.
In the first match played at the sparkling new stadium, Israel delivered an emphatic 3-0 victory against the visitors, perhaps buoyed by the presence of Prime Minister Netanyahu himself. Israel dominated possession 59-41%, completed over 200 more passes than their guests, and played most of the second half a man up after a red card was issued to Toni Sunjic in the 47th minute. Omer Damari also scored his fifth goal in qualifying, enough to be tied for first first place with England's (and Arsenal's) Danny Welbeck. That's good company to be keeping for Damari, who grew up in the Maccabi Petach Tikvah system before moving to Maccabi Tel Aviv, and now plies his trade for Austria Wien, where he has scored 7 goals in his first 11 appearances.
And it only gets better. With a perfect 3-0-0 record in qualifying, Israel now sits in first (!) place in Group B, a point above Wales and three above Cyprus, who have both played four games already. And with no games on the schedule until March, Israel will be perched in that top spot for another four months at least.
The path to qualification only gets harder, with both Wales and Belgium left to play, but so far it's been mission accomplished with three games down and two to go. A top-two finish punches Israel's ticket to the tournament, while a third-place finish would most likely put them in a playoff to qualify.