Local Soccer: Betar faces Ohana with Arazi in place

Hapoel Petah Tikva hosts Ashdod SC; NIS 55 million Toto prize.

ben shushan betar 298.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
ben shushan betar 298.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
The Premier League returns to action this weekend following a short holiday break. Six teams are currently in the hunt for the championship, a race that is much tighter than in recent years. At the other end of the standings, four teams are battling it out to avoid relegation. The local soccer scene is sizzling with the prospect of a season-high NIS 55 million Toto prize. The bounty was announced by the Toto Betting Council after the previous NIS 40m. award was reduced due to the match-fixing scandal that surfaced earlier this month. Betar Jerusalem continues to be the most unstable club in the league, with owner Arkadi Gaydamak making another major change in the team's front office. The Russian-Jewish tycoon fired chairman Vladimir Shklar on Sunday and replaced him with Eli Arazi, a former commander of the Israel Police special forces unit. "[Arazi] is a leader and the right man for Betar," Gaydamak said about his latest move. "I relieved Shklar of his duties because I was not happy with the condition of the club. I can't talk about his work, as he didn't really do anything. We are a top five club in Israel, but that isn't enough for me." The yellow-and-black will open the Arazi era against former Betar star Eli Ohana and Hapoel Kfar Saba at Teddy Stadium on Sunday. The surprise of the season so far is Ashdod SC, which is currently tied with Betar on 25 points. Alon Hazan's team will face a tough test on Saturday, though, as it visits Hapoel Petah Tikva. The coastal club also made a significant signing earlier this week, after Ivory Coast international Juan Paul Gusso snubbed Maccabi Tel Aviv's offer and agreed to terms with "The Dolphins." The dynamic midfielder will not be available for the team's upcoming match, but will join training next week. Defending champion Maccabi Haifa, currently sixth, hosts high-flying Maccabi Petah Tikva at Kiryat Eliezer. A win for the "Luzons" would move Petah Tikva into first place if Jerusalem and Ashdod fail in their respective Matchday 14 assignments. Haifa will have to manage without key defender Dekel Keinan, who is suspended after collecting five yellow cards. The physical sweeper will be replaced in the starting lineup by Chilean Rafael Olara, who has finally recovered from a series of nagging injuries and has been declared match-fit by the medical staff. Eli Cohen's Maccabi Tel Aviv will be looking to keep its eight-match unbeaten streak alive, as it hosts Daniel Jammer's Maccabi Netanya at Bloomfield Stadium. The yellow-and-blue might have to play without captain Avi Nimni, who is not match-fit and doubtful for the game. Also Saturday, Yitzhak Schum's Hapoel Tel Aviv will look to keep its title aspirations alive against Uri Malmilian's Hakoah Amidar Ramat Gan.