Israeli Soccer: Betar held by Hap TA 0-0 in tense opener

Jerusalem gets season off to a solid start but fails to dent the Tel Aviv net at Teddy.

betar jlem hapoel TA 248.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
betar jlem hapoel TA 248.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
It was a long summer of uncertainty for Betar Jerusalem, but on Monday night the yellow and black finally got its league campaign under way with a solid, if at times uninspiring, 0-0 draw at home to title favorite Hapoel Tel Aviv at Teddy Stadium. New sponsor Guma Aguiar took his place in the VIP box that Arkadi Gaydamak had made his own over the last few years, portraying the excitement of a true fan - something which Gaydamak had hardly ever shown in the four years he ran affairs at the club. Jerusalem coach Itzhak Schum may have been disappointed not to start with a victory but will be able to take some positives out of the game. One of the most impressive players on the pitch was stand-in Betar right back Avi Rikan, a former youth team player who filled in for the departed Chilean Cristian Alvarez and performed with a degree of assuredness that belied his young age. The more experienced players such as Amit Ben-Shushan, Aviram Bruchian and Barak Itzhaki, meanwhile, began well but fizzled out as the game went on. Hapoel showed some fight, but not enough to make a strong impact, and was likely tired from its 2-1 victory over Teplice in the Czech Republic on Thursday. The extravagant season-opening ceremony at Teddy on Monday, which featured fireworks, dozens of cheerleading girls and even Aguiar dancing in front of the crowd, set the tone for the start of the game, which began at a pace befitting of the occasion. Hyped by the frenetic packed crowd, Betar pushed up at every opportunity in the first few minutes with Ben-Shushan, Bruchian and Itzhaki linking up well. All of the 14 other teams in the top division scored at least one goal in the opening round, so the pressure was on Hapoel and Betar to at least match their rivals. Itzhaki was sent through by his captain 10 minutes into the encounter but placed his shot wide to the right of Hapoel keeper Vincent Enyeama's goal. Tel Aviv attempted to get in the game but was held up by strong Jerusalem defending. The home side continued to make the most of its attacking prowess as Idan Vered came close with another two chances around the half-hour mark. The game developed into a tight, tense encounter, with few real scoring chances on either side. Five minutes before half time Samuel Yeboah attempted an acrobatic overhead kick only to see it go well over Jerusalem shotstopper Ariel Harush's goal. Junior Viza forced a save from Enyeama with a powerful right-footed effort from inside the box and Betar won a corner at the end of the half. A minute later Vered had an effort saved off the line by Gili Vermut and the match remained 0-0 heading into the break. Sensing the need to spice things up, Tel Aviv coach Eli Gutman took off former Betar midfielder Michael Zandberg at half time and replaced him with striker Maharan Lala. But it was Jerusalem who came out of the blocks quickest, and Vered should have done better with a long-range effort after Itzhaki was tackled on the edge of the box. The speed of the match slowed down again and tensions rose inside the arena. Itzhaki tried a long-range shot as the game reached the hour mark, but it was way too wide to trouble Nigerian international Enyeama. Five minutes later much vaunted Hapoel striker Itai Shechter, who moved to Tel Aviv from Netanya in the summer, had a golden opportunity to take the lead only to shoot weakly straight at Harush. With 20 minutes left Gutman made another change, this time bringing on Eran Zehavi in place of Yeboah in an apparent attempt to revitalize his attacking force. Betar coach Schum then made a similar move, replacing Ben-Shushan with Brazilian David Gomez. But the match continued to plod along with neither side looking like it had the verve to take the game by the scruff of the neck. The introduction of striker Chen Azriel for Viza in the 86th minute was a final roll of the dice for Schum but failed to pay off, and the game ended in a stalemate.