hapoel tel aviv 58.
(photo credit: Gil Korado)
Maccabi Haifa enters Sunday’s Premier League showdown against Hapoel Tel Aviv at
Bloomfield Stadium with everything to prove.
Haifa may be leading the
standings once more, but its mediocre play this season and failure to wrap up
the championship last year make it the slight underdog against the
The Greens have led the table for 66 match-days during the past
three seasons, compared to just seven by Tel Aviv.
But the Reds were the
ones who won the league and cup double last season, and thanks to their fast and
fluid play they are also the favorites to go on to win a second straight
With point totals to be halved after 30 matches ahead of
the championship playoffs, neither team believes the outcome of Sunday’s match
will determine this season’s champion.
However, both are desperate for a
victory which would be significant in ensuring they enter the final five matches
of the season in first position and host what would likely be the title
“We are facing a worthy opponent who is in first position, and
as [Haifa coach] Elisha Levy rightfully said the standings don’t lie,” said
Hapoel coach Eli Gutman, who attended his first training session with the team
on Thursday after more than three weeks away from the side, recuperating from a
“I’m excited to be back and I think that it is symbolic
that I’m returning to the team on my 53rd birthday. I’m targeting the match
against Sakhnin in two weeks time as my first game back, but soccer is a way of
life for me and depending on how I feel I might come back earlier, possibly even
for Sunday’s match.”
Hapoel has beaten Haifa in the sides’ last two
meetings, both at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium, but lost 2-1 to the Greens at
Bloomfield last season.
Haifa is unbeaten in its last 14 league matches,
with its only loss of the season coming at the hands of Hapoel, which has won
nine of its last 11 contests.
“We lost the championship in cruel fashion
last season and we will do everything we can to bring it back to Haifa,” Greens
captain Yaniv Katan said. “We believe in ourselves and we know what we are
worth. We are in first position for good reason. We have a lot of respect for
Hapoel and every match against them is interesting.
But the title will
only be decided at the very end of the season and not in this match.”
Saturday, Maccabi Tel Aviv will have an ideal opportunity to rebound from its
first league defeat under Moti Ivanir when it visits Hapoel Ashkelon.
yellow-and-blue lost 1-0 to Hapoel Haifa at Bloomfield last week, but Ivanir
believes the defeat was blown completely out of proportion.
“We may have
lost ground on Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv, but nothing is over yet,” said
Ivanir, who still believes his team can go on to win the championship. “We
haven’t played great soccer so far, but we have recorded some good results and
all is not lost yet.”
Ashkelon is just two points above the relegation
zone after losing four straight matches, failing to score a goal in its last
Betar Jerusalem is just five points ahead of Ashkelon
after going winless in its last four matches.
Betar won its first game
under coach Roni Levy, but has scored just a single goal in its four matches
since, picking up three out of a possible 12 points.
On Saturday, Levy’s
team visits Hapoel Petah Tikva, which had won two straight matches before losing
to Maccabi Haifa on Monday. Also Saturday, Hapoel Haifa hosts Maccabi Petah
Tikva, Bnei Sakhnin visits Ashdod SC, Bnei Yehuda welcomes Ironi Kiryat Shmona,
Hapoel Beersheba goes to Hapoel Ramat Gan and Hapoel Acre faces Maccabi Netanya.