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(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
The Israeli Premier League returns for Matchday 5 this weekend following a successful break for the country's national teams. The seniors snatched a 1-1 draw against Russia in Moscow, while the under-21s defeated France 2-1 on aggregate to qualify for an historic European championship.
The most intriguing of Saturday's five matches takes place in Netanya, where the local Maccabi hosts Betar Jerusalem.
Betar dropped its first points of the season against Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan in Matchday 4 and will be looking to return to winning ways in Netanya.
Undefeated Maccabi will be no pushover, having already defeated reigning league champion Maccabi Haifa in its first home match of the season. Netanya hasn't won since, recording draws in its subsequent three league matches, but is nevertheless confident about its chances on Saturday.
"In theory, Betar is the favorite to win the championship, but there is a big difference between theory and practice," Netanya defender Ori Uzan said. "We respect Betar, but we will not be suffering from an inferiority complex and we will play to win."
Betar boasts two stars from the national squads. Amit Ben-Shushan scored the senior side's goal in Russia after good buildup by teammate Toto Tamuz, who was also involved in the U21s' winner on Wednesday.
"We don't have long to celebrate," Tamuz said at Betar's training session on Thursday. "It has been a wonderful week with the success of the senior and junior sides. I hope that on Saturday we will make this week perfect with a Betar win."
Jerusalem will likely be led in the center of midfield by Gal Alberman, who has recently showed some of the form that convinced Betar to spend big money to lure him back to Israel from Spain. "A match against Netanya is always difficult. We will play to win like we do every week," Alberman said on Thursday.
"There is no doubt Maccabi will try and win after drawing three straight matches and teams are always highly motivated against Betar. We are a better team than Netanya and if we take advantage of it, we will win the match."
Also Saturday, Maccabi Tel Aviv goes for its second straight win when it travels to Petah Tikva to play Maccabi.
Tel Aviv got its first win of the season against Ashdod SC in Matchday 4, but will have a difficult time against Petah Tikva, which needs a win to keep in touch with the top of the standings.
The Premier League's two newest clubs, Hakoach Ramat Gan and Maccabi Herzliya, face each other on Saturday at Ramat Gan. Herzliya has failed to pick up a point in its three games so far and has only managed to score one goal.
Hakoach, on the other hand, has only lost once in its four matches and impressed in Matchday 4 in a 0-0 draw with Betar at Teddy Stadium.
In Saturday's other two matches, Bnei Yehuda will host Hapoel Petah Tikva and Hapoel Kfar Saba visits Ashdod SC.
On Sunday, Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Maccabi Haifa at Bloomfield Stadium in a meeting between Israel's two representatives in the UEFA Cup group stage.