maccabi tel aviv 88.
(photo credit: )
The Premier League is back in action this weekend after a busy Hanukka recess that included signings and other developments.
Ton Caanen will make his debut as Maccabi Tel Aviv coach against Upper Nazareth after he accepted Eli Driks's contract offer earlier this week.
Ashdod SC hosts Bnei Yehuda in the Friday afternoon fixture, a crucial game that could worsen its situation in the relegation zone and also endanger Yossi Mizrahi's position as head coach.
Many changes have been made in Ashdod in the two-week break. Forward Felix Obuka has been sold to Hapoel Tel Aviv, while Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Blessing Kaku has joined the club on loan until the end of the season.
Athletic Bilbao reserve midfielder Xavi Gonzalez, who played with Haim Revivo on Celta Vigo in the 1990s, is expected to join Ashdod later this week.
Ton Caanen and Maccabi Tel Aviv travel north to take on Motti Ivanir's Upper Nazareth hoping to save their domestic season and rejoin the race for second place, which means European qualification.
Caanen is already making waves in Maccabi. The Dutch coach, who was greeted by hundreds of enthusiastic fans in his first training session, told reporters, "Now that you all know me, I want to start working and bring in good results. I want to employ an attacking system with only three players in defense."
Nazareth defender Haim Benon has recovered from a foot injury that has kept him out since last summer and will return to the starting lineup.
Betar Jerusalem takes on Maccabi Petah Tikva at Teddy Stadium and will be looking to recover from its humiliating 0-3 defeat to Maccabi Haifa in the last league matchday.
Manager Luis Fernandez held a training camp this week in Eilat in search for the ideal lineup and also has issued a warning to his players. "Any player can be released in the near future," the Frenchman said. "More players will be tested and new signings are on the way."
Macedonian international Igor Mitrsky is expected to ink a contract worth around $500,000 with the yellow-and-black over the weekend, which will keep him at the club through the 2006/07 season.
Abbas Suan and Bnei Sakhnin face a tough away game against Hapoel Petah Tikva in a crucial bottom-of-the-table clash.
Petah Tikva teenage sensation Toto Tamuz finally received his Israeli ID from Deputy Interior Minister Ruhama Avraham, who decided to approve Tamuz's numerous applications.
"I have waited for this moment for a long time and I will do my best for the country," an emotional Toto told reporters after the ceremony.
Last-place Hapoel Kfar Saba will face Maccabi Netanya, which has had a turbulent month due to tussles within the club management that caused unrest amongst the players.
German Jewish tycoon Daniel Yamer is still interested in taking over the club and most of the relevant paperwork has been signed, but differences still exist over who will take care of the club's debts before the ownership transfer.
The final fixture of Matchday 15 will be Sunday evening when Dror Kashtan's Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts reigning champion Maccabi Haifa at Bloomfield Stadium.
This could be Tel Aviv's last chance to stop Haifa from running away towards a third straight championship. A Haifa victory would give it an overwhelming 16-point lead.