Hapoel Tel Aviv 298.88.
(photo credit: )
After failing to close the 10-point gap between itself and Maccabi Haifa on Monday, Hapoel Tel Aviv knows it will have to take all three points against Maccabi Netanya on Saturday if it has any intention of remaining in touch with the reigning champion.
Tel Aviv drew 0-0 at Haifa in a disappointing encounter between Israel’s two best teams earlier this week, missing a golden opportunity to put some pressure on the all-conquering league-leader.
Despite scoring more goals than any other team in the Premier League, Tel Aviv has failed to find the back of the net in two of its last three matches and can not afford to misfire once more on Saturday.
After winning four straight games, Netanya has struggled recently, claming just one of its last five matches and falling 3-2 to Hapoel Ramat Gan at home last week.
Tel Aviv completed the signing of Croatian striker Bojan Vrucina on Thursday, but he is not expected to be involved against Netanya. The 25-year-old, who was signed from Croatian club Slaven Belupo, will be leaving his homeland for the second time in his career after making eight appearances for Duisburg in the German Bundesliga in 2008.
The signing of Vrucina comes in the wake of the botched transfer of Ghanaian Sadat Bukari. Hapoel had taken out a visa for the African striker and was hoping to take a closer look at him in training. However, Haifa took advantage of its rival’s hesitations, flew Bukari into Israel on Wednesday and within hours signed him to a four-and-a-half-year contract.
Tel Aviv was infuriated with Haifa, but coach Eli Gutman claimed on Thursday that Vrucina was always the team’s top priority.
“The coaching staff had been tracking several players for some time and Vrucina was our first option,” Gutman explained.
The 20-year-old Bukari will have a tough time breaking into the Haifa lineup, with Vladimir Dvalishvili and Shlomi Arbeitman combining to score 28 goals for the team so far this season, more than 12 of the league’s 16 teams.
Haifa doesn’t play until Monday when it visits in-form Maccabi Petah Tikva.
Maccabi Tel Aviv goes for its fourth consecutive victory when it visits Hapoel Acre on Saturday. Avi Nimni’s team has won three straight matches by a 1-0 scoreline, while Acre has lost four of its last five encounters.
Betar Jerusalem has won just one of its last five league matches, but will be hoping its mid-week Toto Cup triumph will prove to be a turning point in its season. Betar beat Hapoel Ra’anana 1-0 to claim Israel’s second cup competition and will be favored to win once more when it hosts Hapoel Beersheba at Teddy Stadium on Saturday.
Also Saturday, Bnei Sakhnin visits Hapoel Haifa, Bnei Yehuda welcomes Hapoel Petah Tikva and Hapoel Ramat Gan hosts Ashdod SC, with Ahi Nazareth visiting Ra’anana on Sunday.