Israeli soccer raring to get back on pitch

Leader Maccabi Haifa hosts Sakhnin • Mac TA visits Netanya • Beitar Jerusalem at K8

 Hapoel Beersheba vs Maccabi Haifa (photo credit: MAOR ELKASLASI)
Hapoel Beersheba vs Maccabi Haifa
(photo credit: MAOR ELKASLASI)
Israeli sports are back in business this weekend after a two-week break due to the nationwide lockdown.
Although the government extended the current lockdown for at least another 10 days, an exception was made for the top
leagues in soccer and basketball to get back to action with a full slate of games, with teams playing twice a week for
the foreseeable future to make up for lost time.
Among those who will benefit are the fans, who are confined to their homes as they will be able to cheer their teams on
from their couches, and hopefully soon enough they will be back at the stadiums as the COVID-19 vaccination program
continues in earnest across the country.
In Premier League soccer action, table leader Maccabi Haifa will host Bnei Sakhnin at Sammy Ofer Stadium on Saturday
night as the Greens look to continue with their fine play under new head coach Barak Bachar this season.
One addition to the Haifa squad will be Omer Atzili, who signed over the break after playing the first half of the
current campaign for APOEL Nicosia in Cyprus. Atzili had featured for Maccabi Tel Aviv between 2017/2020 until the last
year’s consensual-sex-with-a-minor incident saw him cut from the yellow-and-blue.
Maccabi Tel Aviv will visit Maccabi Netanya as well on Saturday evening, with that match being billed as the “Game of the
Week” The back-to-back defending champion also made a move this past month by signing left back Andre Geraldes, who
starred for the club last year when he was in Israel on loan. After only nine games for APOEL Nicosia, the Portuguese defender will make his way back to the Holy Land to the delight of fans and management alike as the yellow-and-blue looks
to make a dent in Haifa’s eight-point lead at the top of the standings.
Mac TA’s interim head coach Patrick van Leeuwen took advantage of the short pause to shore up his club and get it into
tip-top shape ahead of the league clash at Netanya, where he will face former Maccabi Tel Aviv youth department assistant
Raymond Atteveld.
The diamond city squad has struggled as of late, but if there is anyone who knows the yellow-and-blue inside out, it’s
Beitar Jerusalem will travel up north to play Ironi Kiryat Shmona as the capital city squad went into the break on a high
with a 4-0 win over Hapoel Hadera.
Co-head coaches Slobodan Drapic and Shay Barda will want to use Beitar’s momentum to find a way to begin moving up the
table, as the club is currently in ninth place. Moshe Hogeg, who brought on Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan as an
ownership partner at the club, is still waiting for the Israel Football Association approval as the club’s new United
Arab Emirates boss eagerly awaits to put his mark on the team.
Yossi Abukasis and his Hapoel Beersheba squad will make their long awaited return to Turner Stadium in the southern
capital against Hapoel Hadera after renovations had to be done to the facility’s roof.
Since the beginning of the season, Beersheba had been playing at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, and had played admirably,
but with the ability to now play on a surface that it is familiar with, the club will look to move up from its current
fourth-place position.
Last-place Hapoel Tel Aviv made wholesale changes during the break and brought on board no less than four new top-level
Ben Bitton, Dan Einbinder, Shlomi Azulay and Lidor Cohen all head to the Reds to try and save the club from relegation as
they sit at the bottom of the standings with 10 points under head coach Nir Klinger. Their first test will take place at
Bloomfield Stadium when they welcome Hapoel Haifa.
Maccabi Petah Tikva almost lost its latest up-and-coming talent in Leil Abada over the break, but was ultimately able to
hang on to the 19-year old winger when talks with Ukrainian powerhouse Dynamo Kiev fell apart.
Petah Tikva and the Luzon family have been able to produce a number of young talents of late, including Manor Solomon who
is playing with Shakhtar Donetsk and has been rumored to move to English Premier League outfit Arsenal.
There’s no question that Abada will end up being sold over the summer to a team in a bigger league, but coach Guy Luzon
will benefit from Abada as his side looks to improve on its already surprising season that currently has it in fifth
place. Petah Tikva kicks off against Ran Ben Shimon’s Ashdod SC, which has also shocked the Israeli soccer world with its
quality performances so far this season that has earned it a third-place showing.
Finally, Hapoel Kfar Saba with new head coach and former Israel National Team bench boss Elisha Levy will try to continue
to pick up points and move away from the relegation zone. Levy will be super motivated to emerge victorious this weekend
when Kfar Saba takes on Bnei Yehuda, the team he had just left.
Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel sports adventures for tourists and
residents ( Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or feel free to contact the Sports
Rabbi at [email protected]