Local Soccer: Betar J'lem ready for title battle

Players in buoyant mood following Monday's 2-1 victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv.

ben shushan betar 298.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
ben shushan betar 298.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Betar Jerusalem's players said Tuesday they believe they have every chance of winning the Israeli Premier League title in May, following Monday night's 2-1 victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv. The result left Jerusalem five points off league leader Maccabi Haifa with 10 games left to play, including Haifa at Betar in the final weekend of the season. "I'm sure that Maccabi Haifa is feeling a little under pressure," said Benado, who played at Haifa for 10 years before joining Jerusalem. "But they still have a five-point lead on us and that is quite a lot. We musn't forget that everything is dependent on us. We understand that we have to do our work and continue to win and clearly to wait for Haifa to slip up." It all seems a far cry from last month when Betar lost 4-0 at Hapoel, the fans called for the sacking of coach Reuven Atar and club chairman Itzik Kornfein fined all of the players NIS 10,000. On Monday, Kornfein decided to cancel the fine. "All of the players worked hard [on Monday], from defense to attack. We are now in good shape… We didn't play as well in the second half as in the first, but at the end of the day I am happy that we were able to hold on for the win," Benado added. Fellow defender Shimon Gershon, a former Hapoel Tel Aviv player, was delighted with the result, Jerusalem's fifth straight league win. "It was an emotionally charged game both on the pitch and in the stands. I think the first half was the best we have played all season," Gershon told the official Betar Jerusalem Web site. "I won't lie and say there weren't some moments when we felt nervous, but we got over this together and that was important." Gershon refused to discuss the possibility of claiming a third championship in a row for Betar. "We are careful with the words we use and there is no reason to talk about champions. We are going forward nicely and it will take us good places," he said. Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Eli Gutman was bitterly disappointed with the final scoreline, even though he had to play a weakened team without the injured Bibras Natcho and with Samuel Yeboah still out of the country. "I can congratulate Betar on the win, but we came here prepared for this match and until we let in the first goal [in the 31st minute] I thought the team was organized and understood what it needed to do," Gutman said. "Of course we were missing players, but we are men who train together as a squad and believe that the players can give what they need to."