Reds clearly the cream of the crop

Israeli Team of the Year: Hapoel TA not only took the Premier League and State Cup double, but it also went on to reach the group stage of the Champions League.

By
December 30, 2010 05:36
3 minute read.
2010 Team of the Year Hapoel Tel Aviv

Hapoel TA Running 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

To put simply, only a handful of teams in Israeli soccer history can claim to have had a year as outstanding as the one Hapoel Tel Aviv experienced in 2010.

Hapoel not only took the Premier League and State Cup double, but it also went on to reach the group stage of the Champions League, ending its first-ever campaign with a respectable five points.

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However, what set this Tel Aviv team apart from so many former champions were not the titles it collected, but rather the way it did so.

Under the guidance of coach Eli Gutman, Hapoel developed a swift and accurate short pass game, that at its best was as delightful as a coordinated dance on the pitch.

Hapoel ripped teams apart with surgical precision, playing in a way that often brought a smile to fans’ faces, a feat far more rare than wins or trophies.

It is easy to forget now, but there were still many questions marks hanging over Gutman’s team as 2010 began.

Tel Aviv showed its potential at the start of the 2009/10 campaign, but it still trailed a seemingly unstoppable Maccabi Haifa team by eight points at the beginning of the year and looked unlikely to end the club’s championship drought that began in 2000.

However, everything would fall into place for the franchise in 2010.

It could have all gone wrong on so many occasions, but this Hapoel team was simply destined for greatness.

The Israel Football Association’s new point-halving system helped Tel Aviv cut its deficit from Haifa, but despite that, and the fact that Hapoel went unbeaten in the final eight months of the season, it was Haifa which controlled its fate entering the final weekend of the campaign.

However, Haifa could only draw at Bnei Yehuda and Eran Zahavi’s stoppage time goal against Betar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium would secure Hapoel the most dramatic of league championships.

Tel Aviv crucially managed to hold on to all of its stars ahead of the 2010/11 Champions League qualifiers, and despite some nervy minutes against FK Aktobe and Red Bull Salzburg, it always looked on course to reach the group stage of European’s soccer most prestigious competition.

After a rocky start, which saw the side lose its first three group matches by a combined goal difference of 2-8, Gutman’s men picked up five points in the second half of the campaign, which included a 3-0 victory over SL Benfica and a memorable 2-2 draw at Olympique Lyon.

Despite an erratic beginning to its Premier League title defense, which included three losses, its only league defeats of 2010, Hapoel is also currently well placed to take a second straight championship, trailing Haifa by just two points entering the New Year.

Nevertheless, this Tel Aviv side is unlikely to go on and become a dynasty.

Defensive anchor Douglas da Silva has already left, moving to Salzburg for a transfer fee of 2.6 million euros.

Goalkeeping giant Vincent Enyeama, midfield magician Gili Vermut, clutch king Zahavi and the striking duo of Ben Sahar and Itai Shechter are also all expected to leave in the coming summer, while Gutman is hoping to land a coaching job abroad or alternatively be named as Luis Fernandez’s successor as the boss of the Israel national team.

Making matters even more complicated is the ongoing wrangling between co-owners Moni Harel and Eli Tabib, with both announcing that they will not continue at the club with the other after this season.

With so much uncertainty, it will be almost impossible for Hapoel to maintain its current level of success or play.

It is unfortunate that this team was only around for one year, but anyone who saw this Hapoel side at its best will never forget it, and for that alone it will go down as one of the greatest teams in Israeli soccer history.


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