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Due to the Israel-Hamas conflict, the Israeli national football team and clubs involved in domestic European competitions have had to play games abroad, losing their home advantage in the process.
In the current international window, Israel is playing its home games at the incredible Pancho Arena in Hungary.
What has happened to football in Israel since the conflict escalated in October?
In the aftermath of 7 October, football has understandably taken a backseat but, to an extent, the show does go on.
Domestic football has been halted, at least temporarily, whilst there was a knock-on effect for Israel’s fixtures due to be played in October. One of those postponed games was played last week when Kosovo beat Israel 1-0, with the game taking place later than scheduled in Pristina.
Who are Israel playing during this international window?
In what is a significantly extended November international period for Alon Hazan’s squad, they are set to play four games in 10 days.
Following the loss to Kosovo, Israel secured a last-gasp 1-1 draw in their ‘home’ game against Switzerland on Wednesday.
This will be followed by another game in Hungary, this time against Romania on Saturday before their Euro 2024 qualification campaign concludes with an away fixture in Andorra on Tuesday.
Today, the beautiful Pancho Arena in my hometown, Felcsút is home to the #EURO2024 qualifier between #Israel and #Switzerland. Over 10 years ago, we introduced a policy of zero-tolerance towards anti-Semitism. Today, Hungary is the safest country in Europe for the Jewish… pic.twitter.com/KyyKGmoutk
— Orbán Viktor (@PM_ViktorOrban) November 15, 2023
Where are Israel playing their Euro 2024 qualifiers?
Israel will play their two upcoming ‘home' games at the very unique Pancho Arena.
Where is the Pancho Arena and who plays at the stadium?
The stadium is located in a small village called Felcsut, a short distance away from the Hungarian capital, Budapest.
This gives an insight to the intrigue and controversy of the stadium development with Hungary’s outspoken, authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban heavily linked to it. A national football academy adjoins the stadium which is adorned with the nickname of Hungary’s legendary Ference Puskas.
The Pancho Arena is also the home of the fledgling club, Puskas Akademia FC, who now play in Hungary’s top league.
The location of this ground has more of a link to Orban than Puskas as the premier is said to have spent some of his formative years in Felcsut, as well as playing part-time football there in later years.
How to get to the Pancho Arena
Felcsút is a village with fewer than 2,000 residents and it is approximately 40km west of Budapest.
It is so small that there is no train station, but groundhoppers interested in visiting this unique stadium can get on bus services from Budapest's Nepilget bus terminal – right next to the Groupama Arena, which can be another to tick off easily. The bus journey takes an hour, and there are as many as ten options a day by Volanbusz.
Essentially, the stadium was not built for large crowds and the lack of significant public transport very much reflects that.
What is the situation in Group I in the Euro 2024 qualifiers?
Ahead of the final two rounds of games in Group I, Israel are still in with a chance of qualifying for Euro 2024 in Germany but it is now an outside chance.
In what is a pivotal game on Saturday, they play Romania who are four points ahead and joint-top of the group.
Switzerland are the group leaders, with Israel’s late equaliser in the 1-1 draw on Wednesday denying their passage to Germany. The Swiss will be fancied to get the job done against Kosovo in Basel on Saturday.
In simple terms, Israel needs to beat Romania and then hope that Switzerland can do them a favour against the same opponent on the final matchday.
What has Hungary said about hosting Israel?
Hungary has hosted many football events in recent years, offering a neutral venue where required as well as the UEFA Europa League final between Sevilla and Roma in May 2023.
Football daft Orban enjoys providing this platform as well as the boost it gives to his regime in geo-political terms. He is also known to be an ally of the Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu and by extension, is seen as a friend to the Jewish people.
Earlier this month, the following statement was made by an advisor to the Hungarian PM, Balasz Orban (no relation), as he welcomed the arrival of the Israel national team for the Euro qualifiers.
In light of the challenging security situation faced by Jewish people worldwide, the #Israeli national football team 🇮🇱 will play their upcoming matches in Felcsút, #Hungary 🇭🇺, at the stadium of the football academy established by @PM_ViktorOrban. This location will provide them… pic.twitter.com/PlZDW3AJSK
— Balázs Orbán (@BalazsOrban_HU) November 1, 2023