(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
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
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
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
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
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.”
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 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.