Upstart Azriel leading Betar Jerusalem’s resurgence

22-year-old striker got chance as injury replacement and has yet to relinquish spot.

December 10, 2010 00:04
3 minute read.
HEN AZRIEL (bottom) has been on fire ever since Ur

Betar 311. (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)

Just three weeks ago it seemed that Hen Azriel would remain marooned on the Beter Jerusalem bench for many months to come.

The 22-year-old striker had started just two of the team’s first 11 matches of the season, during which Betar only managed to win once.

Azriel had long been tipped to be one of the future stars of Israeli soccer, but coach Uri Malmilian simply didn’t seem to trust him. It was hard to see how he would be leading the Betar attack anytime soon, even though he was expected to do so by this stage of his career.

However, with 10 minutes to play in the first half of Jerusalem’s match against Hapoel Ramat Gan at Teddy Stadium on November 20, midfielder Steven Cohen suffered an injury, and Malmilian elected to replace him with Azriel.

Shortly after he entered the pitch, rock-bottom Ramat Gan took a 2-0 lead, but Azriel would get Betar back into the match with a goal four minutes from the break, and just two minutes after halftime he would tie the score, with captain Aviram Bruchian scoring the winner for the hosts two minutes later.

Azriel earned a place in the starting lineup with his performance against Ramat Gan and he scored another brace in the 2-0 victory at Hapoel Haifa a week later before netting two more goals in the 4-0 victory over Hapoel Ashkelon last week.

After Betar claimed all three points just once in its first 11 contests, Azriel has played an integral part in his team’s three-match winning streak, and holds an unbelievable average of scoring a goal every 57 minutes throughout this season.

“Hen is on fire,” Bruchian said of the striker, who is sure to be in the starting 11 once more when Jerusalem goes in search of a fourth straight victory at Hapoel Acre on Saturday. “We see how sharp he is in training and we just hope he can continue this way. We hope he can score many more goals because he is making all of our jobs easier.”

Acre was the league’s in-form team four weeks ago, beating Maccabi Tel Aviv 3-1 for its fifth win in six matches.

However, it has since gone winless in three encounters, losing its last two matches, making it especially desperate to take all three points against Betar on Saturday.

Maccabi Tel Aviv fell to Ironi Kiryat Shmona the week after it lost to Acre, but the yellow-and-blue has steadied the ship over the past two weeks, claiming two straight 2-0 victories to move within just three points of first-placed Maccabi Haifa.

However, Tel Aviv has yet to defeat a team currently ranked in the top half of the standings, a run it will be looking to end when it hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva – which is unbeaten in its last four matches – at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday evening.

“A league campaign is a marathon and you are always going to have some ups and downs,” said Tel Aviv coach Yossi Mizrahi, whose team can climb to first position for at least 24 hours with a win over Petah Tikva. “We will try and maintain this consistency and hopefully we have finally found the right formula.”

Also Saturday, Hapoel Haifa hosts Ashdod SC, Hapoel Beersheba visits Maccabi Netanya, Hapoel Ramat Gan welcomes Hapoel Petah Tikva and Bnei Sakhnin travels south to play Hapoel Ashkelon.

Hapoel Tel Aviv will be hoping it doesn’t experience a hangover from its 2-2 Champions League draw at Olympique Lyon when it visits Bnei Yehuda on Sunday, with Kiryat Shmona hosting Maccabi Haifa on Monday.

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