Beitar Jerusalem defender Marchel Heister..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Amid yet another off-field scandal, Beitar Jerusalem hosts Hapoel Haifa at Teddy Stadium on Saturday night aiming to extend its longest winning streak to start a season in 10 years.
Beitar and Haifa are the only teams to have won their first three matches of the campaign, and one – if not both – will lose their perfect record on Saturday.
After claiming an impressive 3-0 win at Maccabi Tel Aviv to start the season before thrashing Ashdod SC 4-1 and then defeating Maccabi Petah Tikva 2-1 despite playing with 10 men for most of the match, Beitar should be the toast of the league.
Instead, the club is once more making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
After just 10 days on the job, Eli Cohen resigned from his position as professional adviser on Wednesday for making comments the club believed were harmful to its fight against racism.
The veteran coach was brought in to work together with coach Gili Lavenda, who was promoted from his role as an assistant coach to replace the sacked Sharon Mimer four days before the start of the season.
Cohen was pushed out on Wednesday after angering Beitar owner Eli Tabib and club boss Eli Ohana for saying in an interview published in daily Yedioth Ahronoth
that he wouldn’t sign a Muslim player to the team as Beitar fans are unwilling to accept one.
Cohen explained that he wants to avoid a repeat of the violent protests that followed the signing of two Chechen Muslims while he coached the team in 2013.
Beitar hasn’t had a Muslim player since.
Lavenda refused to answer any questions regarding Cohen or Beitar’s reluctance to sign a Muslim player in Thursday’s press conference, insisting that he is focusing on Saturday’s match.
“We are preparing for the match like any other match and that is our entire focus,” said Lavenda. “There is always something happening at Beitar Jerusalem and we need to make sure we focus on the right things. We have managed to do so until now and hopefully we can continue that way.”
Hapoel Haifa only trails Beitar on goal difference after beating Hapoel Ashkelon, Maccabi Petah Tikva and Bnei Yehuda to start the season.
“This is the type of match every player looks forward to,” said Haifa coach Nir Klinger.
Hapoel has so far surprisingly outplayed cross-town rival Maccabi Haifa, which looks to kick-start its campaign after losing two of its first three games when it hosts Hapoel Ra’anana on Saturday.
Elsewhere Saturday, Ironi Kiryat Shmona hosts Petah Tikva and Hapoel Acre visits Hapoel Ashkelon.
On Sunday, Hapoel Beersheba visits Bnei Yehuda and Bnei Sakhnin welcomes Ashdod. Maccabi Netanya hosts Maccabi Tel Aviv on Monday.