Local Soccer: Hapoel seeks to join all-time greats

Hapoel and Mac TA face off for the third time while Mac Haifa hosts Betar.

Three matches in the next week will determine if this season’s Hapoel Tel Aviv squad will be remembered as one of the greatest teams in Israeli soccer history.
Tel Aviv has been heaped with praise for its easy-flowing free-scoring style of play, but it will quickly be forgotten should it end the season empty-handed.
However, three wins in its remaining matches of the campaign, starting on Saturday against Maccabi Tel Aviv, will likely secure not only a Premier League and State Cup double, but will also cement Hapoel’s place in history.
Hapoel, which leads the league standings on goal difference over Maccabi Haifa, faces Bnei Yehuda in the cup final on Tuesday and concludes its season with a visit to the capital to face Betar Jerusalem next weekend.
However, no one at the club will be thinking any further ahead than Saturday’s much-anticipated derby encounter at Bloomfield Stadium.
Eli Gutman’s team has already beaten Maccabi twice this season, including a 4-2 thrashing in February, and considering the yellow-and-blue’s recent performances, Hapoel will surely be very confident of claiming all three points once more.
Maccabi only drew 0-0 with Bnei Yehuda two weeks ago before losing 2-0 to Maccabi Haifa on Monday in an embarrassing performance. However, Avi Nimni’s men know the club’s fans will forgive them for everything, even their defeats to the Reds earlier this season, should they defeat Hapoel on Saturday and hand their arch-rival’s title hopes a crushing blow.
Maccabi will be extremely motivated, but with Hapoel’s current form that may well not prove to be enough. Hapoel has won 12 of its last 13 league games, scoring four goals or more in seven of those victories. Maccabi, in comparison, has scored four goals in a match only twice all season long, although it still remains on course to finish in third position and clinch a Europa League berth.
Maccabi Haifa will be hosting Betar Jerusalem at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium at the same time as the Tel Aviv derby and will be hoping for a Maccabi win at Bloomfield. But first and foremost Haifa will have to make sure it takes care of its business by beating Betar.
Haifa defeated Jerusalem in both of their previous meetings this season, and with Betar losing three of its last four matches, the reigning champion will be a firm favorite to complete a season sweep over David Amsalem’s men.
“Hapoel has the advantage, but it is under pressure and I feel that the title will only be decided at the final moment,” Haifa coach Elisha Levy said. “However, we must focus on our matches and beat Betar and Bnei Yehuda next week. Otherwise, we haven’t got a chance.”
Despite Hapoel’s obvious superiority in the Tel Aviv derby, Levy remains optimistic.
“We’ve learned that in soccer anything can happen,” he said. “In thelast Haifa derby Hapoel was the underdog but managed to disrupt ourgame-plan and we only drew.”
Also Saturday, Ashdod SC hosts Bnei Yehuda in a repeat of the cupsemifinal won by Bnei Yehuda on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Hapoel Ra’ananahosts Ahi Nazareth in a match both teams simply must win if they are toavoid a bottom-two finish and relegation.
Last place Ra’anana is four points adrift of safety, with Nazareth twopoints further ahead, but just as desperate for the victory in thebattle against demotion to the National League.
A single point separates the three teams above Nazareth. Hapoel RamatGan, which seems to be in the biggest trouble, hosts Hapoel Acre, awinner of two of its last three games. Hapoel Petah Tikva, which istied on points with Acre, three points above the relegation zone,visits Hapoel Haifa, which has nothing to play for after securinganother season of Premier League soccer last week.