FELCSUT, Hungary (AP) — A European Championship qualifying game between Switzerland and Israel ended with a 1-1 draw on Wednesday, a match that brought the Israeli team to Hungary after all scheduled games in Tel Aviv were postponed due to the Israel-Hamas war.
The match was one of two “home games” Israel is hosting in Felcsut, a Hungarian village of around 1,900 people, as it chases a qualifying place in the Euro 2024 continental championship. If the team qualifies, it will be its first time since joining the European soccer federation in 1994.
Ahead of the game, fans draped in Israeli flags gathered outside the heavily guarded stadium, singing chants as their team’s bus arrived.
The mood was celebratory, but some fans — some of whom traveled from as far away as Israel to attend the match — were solemn in describing the significance of the contest.
“We’re going through a very, very difficult time right now, and it just felt right,” said Aaron Morali, an Israeli fan who drove two hours from Vienna, Austria to watch the game. “We’re Jewish, we’re here … It was very important for us to come here.”
Some fans in the stands held up signs bearing the faces of Israelis kidnapped during the Oct. 7 Hamas assault inside Israel that killed around 1,200 people.
As fears of antisemitic acts are on the rise across Europe, the security of the Israeli team was a decisive factor in bringing the rescheduled qualifying games to Hungary.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has a holiday home only steps away from the 3,500-seat Pancho Arena in Felcsut, has long claimed that Hungary is one of the safest places in Europe for Jewish people, and maintains close relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As the game approached, heightened security transformed the ordinarily quiet village, making the presence of police and other security forces apparent to local inhabitants.
“The village is a bit upside down, everybody going in and out of the facility is checked,” said Rikardo Mate, a Felcsut resident.
After Wednesday’s game, Israel remains in third place in Group I of Euro 2024 qualifying, behind Switzerland and Romania with 16 points each. The top two teams automatically qualify for Euro 2024 in Germany.
Israel’s next match against Romania will be held in Felcsut on Saturday.