Local Soccer: Hap Tel Aviv ready for final assault

After stealing first place from Mac Haifa, Gutman’s Reds have 3 games to secure title.

Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer ben dayan 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer ben dayan 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv’s players celebrated as if they had already won the Premier League championship following Monday’s dramatic 1-0 victory over Maccabi Haifa at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
However, despite leapfrogging the defending champion into first position in the standings, Hapoel’s victory over Haifa will quickly be forgotten should Eli Gutman’s men fail to wrap-up the league title in their final three matches, starting on Saturday against Ashdod SC at Bloomfield Stadium.
“We haven’t won the championship yet,” star defender Douglas da Silva said. “We still have three more matches to play and each one of them will be like a cup final.”
Hapoel, which also faces Ironi Ramat Hasharon of the National League in the State Cup semifinals on Tuesday, will host Maccabi Tel Aviv next Saturday before concluding the season with a tricky away tie at Betar Jerusalem.
Saturday’s encounter against Ashdod is expected to be the easiest of Hapoel’s remaining matches, with Tel Aviv winning 11 of its last 12 league games, and thrashing Ashdod 4-0 on the road the last time the teams met in February.
However, Ashdod, which has lost both of its matches in the championship playoffs so far, will try and take some confidence from the fact that it managed a 2-2 draw the last time it faced Hapoel at Bloomfield in October.
With Ashdod playing Bnei Yehuda in the cup semis on Tuesday, it would be understandable should coach Yossi Mizrahi choose to rest some of his stars on Saturday.
Nevertheless, Mizrahi has stated that he will be fielding his strongest side at Bloomfield and expects his players to be at their best.
“The players understand that if they don’t play well on Saturday they won’t be in the team for the cup semi,” Mizrahi said. “We will play our strongest lineup.”
A victory for Hapoel, which is only ahead of Haifa on goal difference, will take it three points clear of the Greens for at least 48 hours, with Elisha Levy’s team not visiting Maccabi Tel Aviv until Monday night.
“If we win our three remaining matches I think we’ve got a chance,” Levy said. “Hapoel has the advantage, but we must make sure we win our matches and hope things work out for us.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv may only hold a one-point gap over Betar Jerusalem in the fight for third position and a Europa League berth entering Monday’s encounter, with Betar hosting Bnei Yehuda at Teddy Stadium on Saturday.
The drama of the weekend looks likely to come from the battle against relegation.
Only two points separate the bottom four, with two sides to face automatic relegation and the team which finishes in 14th place to play a National League club in a playoff against demotion at the end of the season.
Rock-bottom Hapoel Ra’anana, which claimed its second win in three matches last week with a 4-0 thrashing of Hapoel Acre, visits Hapoel Haifa, which took a significant step towards securing another season of top-flight soccer with a 1-0 victory over Hapoel Ramat Gan on Sunday.
Three teams are tied on 16 points, with John Gregory’s Ahi Nazarethcurrently looking like it has the best chances of survival among thatbunch, despite its inferior goal difference. Nazareth beat Hapoel PetahTikva last week and visits a struggling Acre side on Saturday.
PetahTikva has lost three straight matches and another defeat at homeagainst Ramat Gan on Saturday could mark the beginning of the end forthe illustrious club.
Also Saturday, Maccabi Netanya and BneiSakhnin will wrap up their season in a match at the Box, and MaccabiPetah Tikva will visit Hapoel Beersheba on Sunday in the final games ofthe mid-table playoffs.