Exciting return to the pitch for Israeli soccer clubs

Beitar Jerusalem draws Beersheba • Maccabi Tel Aviv blanks Hap Haifa • Hap TA edges Mac Haifa

BEITAR JERUSALEM and Hapoel Beersheba met at an empty Teddy Stadium on Saturday in the first game since the league returned from a long hiatus. (photo credit: BEITAR JERUSALEM/COURTESY)
BEITAR JERUSALEM and Hapoel Beersheba met at an empty Teddy Stadium on Saturday in the first game since the league returned from a long hiatus.
The Israel Soccer Premier League resumed action over the weekend with three Championship Playoff matches as the season headed into the stretch run. The trio of contests all provided some exciting play, drama and of course a bit of rust after not having played a competitive game since the beginning of March.
Due to the coronavirus, Israel’s Ministry of Health determined that games were to be played without fans in the stands while club staff and personnel had to wear masks in and around the stadium. In addition, reserve players were seated in the stands and not on the benches in order to keep proper distance between each other.
However, the restrictions didn’t put a damper on the action that was witnessed on the fields in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.
In the capital, Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Beersheba played to a feisty 1-1 draw at Teddy Stadium as the sides combined for five yellow cards and a red card over the course of 90 minutes. Tomer Yosefi gave the Southern Reds an early second-half lead, but Levi Garcia found the back of the goal soon thereafter to see the teams split the points.
Both squads came out firing on all cylinders with chances at both ends of the pitch, however, Beitar keeper Itamar Nitzan was up to the task time and time again stymieing Beersheba’s Portuguese attacking midfielder Josue and Dutch winger Elton Acolatse. Beersheba netminder Ohad Levita was also sharp when called upon to stop Eliran Atar as the side’s ended the first half goalless.
Beitar was forced to make a substitution at halftime due to an injury to Atar as Freddy Plumain came on in his place. However, it was Beersheba that would took advantage of the yellow-and-black’s defensive disarray in the 51st minute when Acolatse lifted a fantastic ball into the box that Beitar couldn’t clear as Tomer Yosefi pounced on it to give Yossi Abukasis’s squad a 1-0 lead.
It didn’t take Roni Levy’s team long to find the equalizer as captain Idan Vered gave Garcia a tap pass in the area as the latter sent a half volley past Levita. Beitar was reduced to 10 men in the 84th minute when Antoine Conte was issued his second yellow card for a reckless tackle, but the host side able to hang on to take a hard-earned point.
“We played a very tough opponent with a championship squad,” stated Levy following the game. “You could say that there is a significant difference in playing against Beersheba at Teddy Stadium with fans and without. With the fans it’s a totally different story. It will take time for us to get into our regular pace and it will be a challenge to do so. This is the situation, but at least soccer has returned and I’m sure we will see our pace improve over the next few games.”
Abukasis also commented on his team’s effort on the road.
“I have to say that the players out everything to the side and gave it their all,” said Abukasis. “Ten days ago we were definitely not as sharp and today the team played organized soccer with will and determination.”
Elsewhere, Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Hapoel Haifa 2-0 at Bloomfield Stadium. Surprise starter Matan Hozez scored a brilliant free kick at the stroke of halftime as Carmel Reds ’keeper Jasmin Buric got a hand on the ball but not enough to keep it out of his goal.
Itay Shechter doubled the yellow-and-blue’s advantage in the 55th minute as he nodded home a Hozez free kick to wrap up the three points.
“I believe we deserved to win,” said Maccabi’s victories coach Vladimir Ivic. “We were the better team although Haifa was quite good. We got into the swing of things quickly and took control of the game in the first half. We held the ball well and worked very hard, but we can still play better.”
Finally, Hapoel Tel Aviv may have pulled off the biggest shocker of the round as Nir Klinger’s squad travelled up to Haifa and stunned the Greens 2-1 at Sammy Ofer Stadium.
Moti Barshazki opened the scoring for the visiting Reds in the 14th minute when he glided through the Haifa defense and slotted a perfect ball past ’keeper Josh Cohen that went off the far post and in.
Hapoel continued to dominate as Omer Damari increased Reds’ lead to 2-0 in the 69th minute when he put home Eyad Abu Abaid perfect cross.
Maxim Plakuschenko pulled a goal back for Haifa in the 80th minute on a gorgeous left-footed volley to cut the lead, but his marker was too little, too late to save the hosts as Hapoel took the maximum points.
“The past few months were very challenging,” explained Klinger. “We were one of the first teams back to training and you could see that as your players were in shape. In fact, they could have finished off the game much earlier.  We tactically prepared well for this game and our plan was a bit different than it would normally be because Haifa was without three very important players, which makes it a totally different club.”
All six teams will be back in action this week as Beitar Jerusalem will visit Hapoel Tel Aviv on Tuesday while Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Beersheba travels to Hapoel Haifa.
The relegation playoffs will also get under way, with Bnei Yehuda taking on Hapoel Kfar Saba, Ashdod SC hosting Hapoel Ra’anana, Maccabi Netanya welcoming Ironi Kiryat Shmona and Sektzia Ness Ziona playing at Hapoel Hadera.