Rishon hosts Mac TA in duel for first place

First true test for newly-promoted club; yellow-and-blue preps for upcoming Turkish trip.

MACCABI TEL AVIV midfielder Dor Micha (right) 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
MACCABI TEL AVIV midfielder Dor Micha (right) 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Even in its wildest dreams Hapoel Rishon Lezion never imagined that Saturday’s home match against Maccabi Tel Aviv would be a battle between the two top teams in the Premier League standings.
It is not that Rishon underrated the high-flying yellow-and-blue, but rather that the newly-promoted side didn’t dare dream that it would win its first two matches.
Rishon has been the surprise package in the first two weekends of league action, collecting a maximum six points with a 4-2 win over Bnei Sakhnin and a 2-1 victory over Hapoel Ramat Hasharon.
However, matters are set to get far more complicated for Rishon over the next two weeks, with Nissan Yehezkel’s team to host Maccabi Tel Aviv on Saturday before visiting Maccabi Haifa next week.
“This is the worst time to face Tel Aviv,” Yehezkel said. “The international break ruined our momentum and Maccabi is in the best form in the country at the moment. We are expecting an extremely tough match, but we will be looking to surprise Maccabi and continue our good start.”
Tel Aviv brushed aside Hapoel Petah Tikva and Ashdod SC in its first two league matches and will be a firmfavorite on Saturday, even though it will already have one eye on Thursday’s potentially volatile Europa League group match in Turkey against Besiktas.
Over 200 Maccabi fans have bought tickets for the match despite the escalating crisis between the Israeli and Turkish governments and the fear that local authorities will not be able to protect the Tel Aviv supporters.
Turkey’s sports minister promised on Thursday that Maccabi and its fans will receive the best welcome possible in Istanbul.
“The match will be played in the highest level of [Turkish] hospitality,” said Suat Kilic in a press conference.
Despite Maccabi’s concerns for the safety of its players and supporters, Besiktas vice chairman Metin Keçeli is certain that the match will go ahead as planned.
“The game will be played at the Fiyapı I˙nönü Stadium on the announced date,” he told Turkish state news agency Anatolia earlier this week.
“We will play the game and there will be no problems. Of course, we will increase security measures on the match day. We do not know if Maccabi will bring its supporters, but we will also allocate seats for the visiting team’s fans.”
Turkish-Israeli relations hit a low this week, with Turkey expelling top Israeli diplomats and cutting military ties following Israel’s refusal to apologize for the death of nine Turks in last year’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.
The two-week international break could not have come at a better time for Maccabi Haifa, which only managed a 2-2 home draw with Hapoel Petah Tikva in its last match shortly after its heartbreaking Champions League exit at the hands of KRC Genk.
Haifa visits Ashdod SC on Saturday and Greens coach Elisha Levy will be desperate for a win ahead of the start of Maccabi’s Europa League group campaign against AEK Larnaca on Thursday.
Ashdod is one of four teams yet to pick up a point this season, although Yossi Mizrahi’s side has only played one match to date, losing 4-0 to Maccabi Tel Aviv after having its encounter against Hapoel Ramat Hasharon postponed due to the security situation in the south of the country.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Haifa hosts Bnei Yehuda, Ironi Kiryat Shmona visits Hapoel Petah Tikva, Maccabi Netanya welcomes Maccabi Petah Tikva and Ramat Hasharon travels up North to face Bnei Sakhnin.
Besides Maccabi and Rishon, Betar Jerusalem is the only other team to have won its first two matches, but it will have to be at its very best to make it three out of three when it visits Hapoel Tel Aviv on Sunday.
On Monday, Hapoel Acre will officially open its new stadium when it hosts Hapoel Beersheba.