Amid distractions, Hap wants strong finish

Star players have eyes on European clubs; Haifa in action on Monday.

eran zehavi hapoel tel aviv_311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
eran zehavi hapoel tel aviv_311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv is about to enter the most crucial stretch of its season, but its players seem to be far more concerned with possible moves to greener pastures abroad.
Star goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama is almost certainly on the way out, and will be a prize commodity in Europe with his contract ending this season.
Midfield maestro Gili Vermut, who hasn’t hidden his desire to play on the continent, looks set to do so, having a relatively low buy-out clause in his contract.
Earlier this week, striker Itai Shechter met with representatives of Bundesliga clubs FC Kaiserslautern and Hannover 96 in Germany.
Eran Zahavi became the latest Hapoel player to announce his desire to move on this summer, telling the Portuguese media on Wednesday that he is set to sign for Sporting Lisbon.
And with no end in sight to the ongoing dispute between co-owners Moni Harel and Eli Tabib, it is anyone’s guess what will be left of the reigning doubleholder next season.
But before its star players begin their European exodus and the ownership quarrel is resolved in the off-season, Hapoel is hoping to end this era on a high.
Tel Aviv hosts Bnei Yehuda on Saturday and can close to within one point of Maccabi Haifa, which doesn’t welcome Ironi Kiryat Shmona until Monday.
Haifa needs just one more win from its next two matches to ensure it enters the championship playoffs in first place and hosts Hapoel in what will likely be the title decider on April 30.
“Zahavi’s announcement surprised us,” Hapoel assistant coach Yossi Abuksis admitted. “I think he could have waited a little longer, but our players have proven this season that they can put everything aside and focus on the team’s performance. It is very problematic for a team when several significant players leave at the same time, and the situation is made even more complicated as we can’t begin preparing for next season because of the dispute between the owners.”
Since its 4-1 victory over Maccabi Haifa, Tel Aviv has been far from convincing, losing to Betar Jerusalem, drawing with Ashdod SC and defeating only lowly Bnei Sakhnin and Hapoel Petah Tikva.
Bnei Yehuda will give Hapoel a stern test on Saturday, with Dror Kashtan’s team losing just once in its last nine matches, beating Maccabi Tel Aviv 2-0 last week.
After losing three straight games, the yellow-and-blue faces a tricky visit to Maccabi Petah Tikva on Saturday.
Tel Aviv has fallen in its last three matches by a combined 0-9 goal difference, and coach Moti Ivanir revealed that he is finding it hard to look his team’s fans in their eyes in recent weeks.
“Over the last month I haven’t left home apart from going to the training ground because I’m embarrassed,” Ivanir said on Thursday. “I’m embarrassed when the fans look at me and I want my players to be embarrassed after defeats as well. We want to stop this awful run of losses and battle for third position.”
Buoyed by having a point reinstated to its total by the Israel Football Association High Court on Wednesday, Betar Jerusalem hosts Hapoel Acre on Saturday, looking to rebound from last week’s humbling defeat at Hapoel Ashkelon.
Betar, which originally had one point deducted for the racist chants shouted by its fans at Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder Salim Toama last month, still faces a two-point deduction – a sentence which was suspended until the end of this season – while also having a separate two-point deduction suspended sentence for the 2011/12 campaign.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Beersheba welcomes Maccabi Netanya, Hapoel Haifa visits Ashdod SC and Bnei Sakhnin hosts Hapoel Ashkelon.
Hapoel Ramat Gan visits Hapoel Petah Tikva on Sunday.