France and Israel have had a stormy relationship over the years. Recall that before the Yom Kippur War, France was Israel’s largest supplier of arms and that the fighters that destroyed the Egyptian and Syrian Air Forces in 1967 were French-made Mirages. Also recall that recent history has been completely the opposite, with France being one of Israel’s harshest critics and most partisan supporters of the Palestinian cause- who can forget Jacques Chirac’s infamous hosting of Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak at the Elysee Palace in October 2000 as the Second Initifada broke out.
All that is prologue for Wednesday’s fixture at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv, as Olympique Lyonnais, last year’s semifinalists in the UEFA Champions League and one of the top teams in France, will take the pitch to face off against HaPoel Tel Aviv, who will be hosting their first ever Champions League match. It’s a historic event for HaPoel, who are only the third Israeli side to make it this far in the elite competition (joining Maccabi Haifa and Betar Yerushalayim). The odds are long for HaPoel, as Lyon is a top-ten team in Europe, but anything is possible; Maccabi Haifa once beat Manchester United 3-0 in this very competition in 2002.
HaPoel enters the match two weeks removed from an uninspired 2-0 loss at Benfica in Lisbon and eager to please the home crowd, and indeed, many thousands more Israeli soccer fans that will be coming to the match even if their loyalties lie with other squads. With a little luck and some plucky football, HaPoel could make some noise and give its fans hope for the remainder of the group stage. It’s not on Fox Soccer, but you should be able to watch the game for free here at 1:45 PM on Wednesday.
Two other teams to watch in the group stage, for Jewish soccer fans, are Amsterdam’s AFC Ajax and North London’s Tottenham Hotspur, both of whom, in a convoluted fashion, have adopted very pro-Jewish and pro-Zionist identities (read here for the Ajax story or read the previous Tottenham link for that angle). Both games are on Fox Soccer, so set your DVRs: you can watch Ajax take on powerhouse AC Milan at 10:00 AM on Wednesday, and Tottenham clash with FC Twente of the Netherlands at 5:00 that afternoon.