MACCABI TEL AVIV striker Eliran Atar 150.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
With its hopes of winning the State Cup for the first time since 2005 going up
in flames on Wednesday, Maccabi Tel Aviv will turn its full focus to claiming
its first Premier League title in 10 years on Saturday, looking to build on its
eight-point lead at the top when it visits Bnei Sakhnin.
ahead in the title race with eight wins in its past 10 matches, including its
last five, Maccabi fans were already fantasizing about celebrating a first
league and cup double since the 1995/96 campaign. However, Beitar Jerusalem
ended that dream on Wednesday, recording a shocking 2-0 win over the
yellow-and-blue at Bloomfield Stadium in the last 16 of the cup, extending
Maccabi’s cup curse.
Since last lifting the cup in 2005, Maccabi has gone
eight consecutive seasons without even making it past the
However, rather than mulling over its cup futility, Tel
Aviv will instead concentrate on completing its mission in the league, starting
with Saturday’s tricky tie at Sakhnin.
“We are in a good position in the
league and all our energies will be now channeled in that direction. We have no
other choice,” said Maccabi midfielder Gal Alberman.
“We didn’t play so
well against Beitar and when that happens in the cup you are knocked
Alberman was confident that Maccabi will bounce back from the
“We have already proven that we aren’t that
vulnerable and fragile this season,” he said. “We have got some very difficult
and important matches until the end of the season and we want to maintain our
lead and accomplish our goal.”
Tel Aviv can open an 11-point gap at the
top with a win at Sakhnin, with second-placed Maccabi Haifa not hosting Hapoel
Haifa in the derby until Monday night.
Sakhnin enters the match just two
points off the relegation zone having won just one of its past eight
Sakhnin, which advanced to the cup quarterfinals with a 3-2 win
over Bnei Lod on Wednesday, hasn’t even found the back of the net in its last
three home games, losing all three encounters by a combined goal difference of
Elsewhere Saturday, Hapoel Tel Aviv will look to continue its recent
resurgence when it hosts the struggling Ashdod SC.
Hapoel has won both
its matches since Freddy David replaced Yossi Abuksis as coach, although it was
far from convincing in last weekend’s 2-1 league victory over Hapoel Beersheba
and in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Hapoel Kfar Saba in the cup, requiring help from
the referees in both games.
After a promising start to the season, Ashdod
has won just one of its past 13 matches and enters Saturday’s encounter three
points back of sixthplaced Hapoel Ramat Hasharon.
The league will be
split into two sections after each team completes two rounds of play with two
The top six teams will play each other twice more (10
matches in total) to decide the champion, while the bottom eight teams will play
each other once more to determine the relegation battle.
Hapoel Ramat Gan
hosts rock-bottom Hapoel Acre in a crucial showdown in the fight against
relegation on Saturday, while Bnei Yehuda hosts Hapoel Beersheba and Ironi
Kiryat Shmona visits Ramat Hasharon.
Beitar Jerusalem welcomes Maccabi
Netanya on Sunday.
After stunning Maccabi Tel Aviv in the last 16 of the
cup, Beitar was handed another cruel draw in the quarterfinals on Thursday,
being paired with Maccabi Haifa in the last eight.
Beitar will host Haifa
at Teddy Stadium on March 12/13, with threetime defending cup holder Hapoel Tel
Aviv drawn to visit Hapoel Rishon Lezion of the National League, Ironi Kiryat
Shmona to welcome Bnei Sakhnin and Hapoel Ramat Gan to visit the only remaining
third-division side in the draw, Asi Gilboa.