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Eli Gutman will never forget the morning of January 3, 2007. As he was running on the beach near his home, going through his morning routine, Gutman received an unexpected phone call from Maccabi Netanya CEO Kobi Beladev.
The exact content of the conversation has never been disclosed, but we know one thing for sure is that Gutman was notified by Beladev that Netanya no longer requires his services.
On Saturday, Gutman, who was appointed as Hapoel Tel Aviv coach on Tuesday, hosts Netanya at Bloomfield Stadium in a match which even the words highly charged do no justice.
Gutman will be desperate to get one over his former team and at the same time begin his Hapoel career in the best possible way.
Tel Aviv is rock bottom of the Premier League standings after picking up just six points in the first third of the season. The team, which has won just one and drawn three of its 11 matches, has lost six of its last seven games and has scored a mere five goals so far this season.
Clearly, Gutman has got plenty of work ahead of him. He believes, however, that he's more than up to the job on hand and that he can guide the team to safety.
"We have a good squad," Gutman told Army Radio on Thursday.
"If I took this job then I obviously believe I can do it. I wouldn't guide this team if I didn't believe in it. There's work to be done, but I will give my all so that this team improves."
Also Saturday, the ever-improving Maccabi Haifa faces a stern test when it visits Bnei Sakhnin at its imposing Doha Stadium.
The Greens will be looking for their fifth straight clean sheet on Saturday against Sakhnin's excellent offensive players Maor Buzaglo and Ilya Yavruyan.
Buzaglo, who has been in scintillating form this season, is on loan from Haifa and will be eager to prove once and for all that coach Roni Levy was foolish to allow him to leave the club in the summer.
Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Ashdod SC on Saturday in a match of critical importance. Ashdod has lost four matches in a row and faces a Tel Aviv team, which has split its last four games.
"The match on Saturday is very significant to Maccabi Tel Aviv. Ashdod isn't at its best, but neither are we," Maccabi coach Nir Levin said on Thursday. "We need to find the right balance and record good results on a regular basis."
Saturday's other games see second placed Maccabi Petah Tikva, which has won four of its last five matches, visiting Hapoel Kfar Saba, while Maccabi Herzliya hosts Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
On Sunday, Betar Jerusalem goes on the road to face Bnei Yehuda. Betar was paired with Maccabi Haifa in the draw for the Toto Cup semifinals that was made on Thursday. Bnei Sakhnin faces Bnei Yehuda in the other semifinal.
Both matches will be played in a double-header next Wednesday at National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
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