Premier Leag ue action returns on Saturday, with Maor Melikson (right) and Hapoel Beersheba visiting Hapoel Ra’anana, while Dor Peretz (center) and Maccabi Tel Aviv go to Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
(photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
With its Champions League group stage opener right around the corner, three-time defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv will look to maintain its perfect start to the Premier League season when it visits Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Saturday night.
Maccabi faces English champion Chelsea in London on Wednesday night, its first Champions League group-stage appearance since 2004.
However, it will first want to extend its perfect start to the league campaign, assuming the dust storm doesn’t force the postponement of Saturday’s action.
Two Toto Cup matches scheduled for Thursday were put off to a later date after the weather conditions were ruled to be hazardous to the players’ health.
The heavy heat and mugginess that resulted in the most polluting weather to hit the country in 15 years is expected to continue until Saturday, with the Israel Football Association set to decide on Friday if it is safe for the matches to be played after consulting with health authorities.
This weekend’s action was under threat of postponement for a different reason until Wednesday when the attorney-general announced that nobody would be prosecuted for playing on Shabbat.
Matches on Saturday were thrown into doubt following a court ruling on a petition by religiously observant players against taking to the field during the Jewish Sabbath.
Their refusal to participate in some matches that in previous years have been held on weekdays led the Tel Aviv Labor Court to rule that without a waiver that allows companies to employ workers on Shabbat, Saturday soccer is illegal.
But Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein said he saw no reason to suddenly enforce a law that had been ignored for decades and that nobody would be prosecuted.
Following that, the Israel Football Association said all matches would go ahead as planned.
With the strike being canceled, and weather permitting, Maccabi will be aiming to record a rare victory in Kiryat Shmona. The yellow-and-blue has won just one of eight league matches in Kiryat Shmona since 2010, registering four defeats, three draws and a single victory, back in April 2013.
“We have a crucial match in Kiryat Shmona against a tough team in a very difficult stadium and hopefully we will get the result we want,” said captain Eran Zahavi, who has scored three of his team’s four league goals to date.
“We are already working on the Chelsea match to make sure we play attractive football as everyone is looking forward to the game.”
Kiryat Shmona lost its league opener at home to Hapoel Beersheba, but bounced back with a 3-0 win at Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Maccabi Petah Tikva, which is the only other team to have won its first two matches, hosts Bnei Yehuda on Saturday.
Maccabi Haifa never imagined that it would be one of two teams to lose its first two matches and the Greens will be aiming to kickstart their campaign when they host Bnei Sakhnin, the other side to fall in both its games to date.
Walid Badir will coach Hapoel Tel Aviv for the first time since taking over on an interim basis from Cesar Mendiondo when Hapoel hosts Maccabi Netanya.
Both teams have yet to score this season. Beitar Jerusalem, which is also still looking for its first goal, hosts Hapoel Haifa. Also Saturday, Hapoel Beersheba goes to Hapoel Ra’anana and Hapoel Kfar Saba visits Hapoel Acre.