The Paris Saint-Germain Football Club (PSG), one of the top teams in France’s top league, on Sunday night defeated F.C. Nantes from the city by that name in Pays de la Loire, also a major league team. The score was 4-0 and the game was held before 30,000 adoring Israeli fans in Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv.
You don’t have to be a soccer fan (which I am) to realize that this is a weird thing. Shouldn’t French soccer cup games be played in, say, Paris? And, as Israeli media repeated with great national pride, this is the second French Cup game (Trophée des Champions) to be played in Bloomfield. Last year, the Lille Olympique Sporting Club (LOSC) defeated Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 a football’s throw away from the clock tower in Jaffa.
This year, PSG featured several international stars that, as Americans, you may or may not have heard of, but trust me, they’re huge. And they all scored: the Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi scored a goal in minute 22, the Spanish Sergio Ramos in min. 57, and the Brazilian legend Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, who is so big his fans call him just Neymar, like Cher, or Paul (the singer, not the apostle), scored twice: just before the end of the first half, and in a penalty shot in min. 82.
There was also PSG’s Moroccan star Ashraf Hakimi, who was booed last year by the Bloomfield crowd after he had called for the liberation of Palestine during Operation Guardian of the Walls. Last night the crowd was less booish, but the Tel Aviv stadium is just not a happy place for Hakimi, who gave it everything in min. 5 only to see an amazing save by Nantes’ goalkeeper Alban Lafont.
The match was broadcast to millions of viewers in 140 countries around the world. The game was conducted by a partnership of the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP), philanthropist and businessman Sylvan Adams, and Daniel Benaim’s event organizer Comtecgroup.
The Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem (Chairman Larry Maisel) brought 1,000 young Jewish, Muslim, and Christian children to enjoy the star-studded match.
All of which does not explain why the prestigious French cup game was held in Israel, and for the second time, too.
I checked (so you won’t have to). So, to start, Israel is not the first place outside France where the Trophée des Champions is held. Since 2009, it has been played in Montreal, Canada, Tunisia, Morocco, the United States, Gabon, China, and Austria.
Now even bigger question: why do France’s major soccer stars play one of the year’s most important matches on foreign soil? The answer is: la vacance, the most sacred annual French pilgrimage of millions. By the end of July and most of August the French get in the car and drive the family someplace nice, away from the cities, especially from Paris. Which is why the folks who pack the stadiums during soccer season pack the beaches.
Here are some numbers: in 1995, last night’s teams, PSG and Nantes, played the cup match in Brest before 12,000 fans. In 1997, Monaco beat Niece 5-2 in front of a crowd of 4,000. In 2000 the cup game attracted just under 10,000, and it was downhill from there, including the smattering of 5,041 who showed up in 2002, you understand.
And then, in 2009, at the Olympic stadium in Montreal – 34,068 roaring fans. In 2010, in Tunisia – 57,000 ecstatic Tunisians. In 2017 in Tangier, Morocco – 43,761. In China, in 2018, 41,761. And both years in Bloomfield, 2021 and 2022, a capacity crowd of 30,000.
The ticket prices to the Bloomfield game ran as high as NIS 605 ($177) if you ordered them months in advance. Scalped tickets reportedly sold for more than 10 times that amount.
And that’s why the French cup was played in Israel last night and may continue to be played here, because, unlike those other international venues, Israeli fans can’t have enough of those superstars. Elsewhere, not so much. The second time the game came to Montreal, in 2015, only 20,000 fans showed up. The second game in China, in 2019, was also a disappointment – only 22,000. But Israeli fans will keep coming back, at least as long as huge stars like Lionel Messi keep coming back.
OK, that one is problematic: the Argentinian player is 35, and 2023 may be his last year playing for the French team.
This could be embarrassing.