(photo credit: Associated Press)
Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Eli Gutman did his best to bring his players back down to
earth on Thursday, one day after their historic 3-0 Champions League victory
over SL Benfica at Bloomfield Stadium.
Despite being on the back-foot
throughout the entire match, Hapoel successfully soaked up Benfica’s pressure
and made the most of its opportunities when they arrived, with a brace from Eran
Zehavi and another goal by Douglas da Silva giving the club its first ever
victory in European soccer’s most prestigious competition.
The win over
the Portuguese champion, which was the first for an Israeli club in the
Champions League in nearly six years, is worth some 880,000 euro in prize money
from UEFA and leaves Tel Aviv with an outside chance of finishing third in Group
B and advancing to the Europa League round of 32, which it reached last year as
However, after once more telling his players how proud he was of
them in Thursday morning’s training session, Gutman demanded that they now
display maturity and responsibility, and turn their focus once again to the
team’s Premier League title defense, with Hapoel hosting Ashdod SC on
Tel Aviv has won six of its last seven league matches, defeating
Bnei Sakhnin 3-1 last week to move within one point of top-of-the-table Ironi
On Saturday, Kiryat Shmona can ensure itself at least one
more week in first position when it hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva.
Haifa visits Hapoel Ashkelon on Saturday, looking for just its second victory in
Haifa has struggled with its form this season, but has
still lost just once in 11 matches and finds itself only two points back of
After claiming just its second victory of the season last
week, Betar Jerusalem visits Hapoel Haifa on Saturday hoping to string together
a pair of wins for the first time this season.
Betar came back from two
goals down to beat rock-bottom Hapoel Ramat Gan 3-2, but will face a tough match
against Hapoel Haifa, which is unbeaten in its last five encounters.
Saturday, Hapoel Acre hosts Hapoel Beersheba and Bnei Sakhnin travels south to
play Hapoel Petah Tikva.
Maccabi Tel Aviv will look to return to winning
ways after two straight defeats when it visits Maccabi Netanya on Monday.