Beitar Jerusalem fans at Teddy Stadium in 2013.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Beitar entered last Monday’s Premier League match at Maccabi Netanya knowing a win would move it to within a mere two points of leader Hapoel Beersheba ahead of a showdown between the two at Teddy Stadium.
Jerusalem also had a State Cup final encounter with Hapoel Haifa at Teddy to look forward to, putting it in a position to not only win its first title of any kind in eight years, but to even end the season with a remarkable league and cup double.
Instead, Beitar fans woke up on Thursday morning wondering how it all went so wrong, with their team suffering two consecutive 4-1 losses in league action against Netanya and Beersheba to lose any realistic chance of claiming the championship before falling 3-1 in extra-time in Wednesday’s cup final.
Hapoel Haifa, which is in fourth place in the standings, continued its surprise campaign by picking up its first title since taking a historic championship in 1998/99, and its first cup in 44 years.
Maxim Plakuschenko gave Haifa the lead in the 27th minute, but Beitar equalized one minute later through Gaetan Varenne’s header.
The match went to extra-time and Samuel Scheimann put Haifa back in front with a stunning strike in the 106th minute. Alon Turgeman put the icing on the cake in stoppage time.
Beitar still has three more matches remaining this season and has a mathematical chance of winning the league title, sitting eight points back of Beersheba with nine points left to play for. But no one on the squad believes it has any hope of catching the two-time reigning champion and the club is already completely focused on its preparations for next season.
Beitar’s squad is expected to undergo significant changes, with coach Benny Ben-Zaken also set to leave. Ben-Zaken was put in an almost impossible position from the start, a situation almost any coach to have worked under Beitar owner Eli Tabib can sympathize with.
With head coach Sharon Mimer being sacked four days before the start of league play, Eli Cohen resigning from his position as professional adviser after just 10 days and Ben-Zaken being hounded by the club’s fans from his first day on the job – and all of this within the first two months of the campaign – Beitar’s season seemed to be unraveling from the start.
But while the turmoil that has come to characterize Tabib’s clubs ensued, there was an endless supply of headlines for all the wrong reasons. The owner’s proven eye for talent, at bargain prices, meant Beitar remained in the running for two titles until the final month of the campaign.
Tabib isn’t supposed to be involved in the running of the club, serving a two-year suspension due to a ruling made by the Israel Football Association’s ownership transfer committee last summer following his conviction in June 2015 of assaulting a minor and of disruption of justice.
Eli Ohana was hired as Beitar’s top professional and administrative authority ahead of the season, but there is no doubt Tabib remains heavily involved in almost every aspect of the club’s running – not only signing players to the squad, but also ordering substitutions from the stands during matches.
With the likes of star striker Itay Shechter on their way out of the club, Tabib will have to once more work his scouting magic or next season could end up looking a lot more like the past week rather than much of 2017/18.
Beitar visits Bnei Yehuda on Saturday, but knows Beersheba is in complete control of its destiny. Beersheba will be aiming to become just the third team in the past 55 years to win three league titles in a row with a win over Maccabi Tel Aviv at Turner Stadium on Saturday night.