Local Soccer: Revived Betar to host arch rival Hapoel Tel Aviv in league opener

Betar Jerusalem will host Hapoel Tel Aviv in a mouth watering curtain raiser to the new Premier League season on August 22. Betar only just avoided bankruptcy this week, but will still field a strong team this season, while Hapoel has made the most impressive summer signings to date, bringing in top Israelis Dedi Ben-Dayan, Michael Zandberg and Itai Shechter. Defending champion Maccabi Haifa was handed a relatively comfortable opening match in Thursday's draw, which took place at Israel Football Association headquarters in Ramat Gan. The Greens, who defeated Glentoran of Northern Ireland in the Champions League qualifers on Wednesday, will host newly promoted Hapoel Acre in the opening weekend of the season. Two days after Guma Aguiar agreed to sponsor the team to the tune of $4 million for the coming season, Betar Jerusalem received an extra boost on Thursday when it was announced that defenders Cristian Alvarez and Arik Benado have signed contracts to continue playing for the club. Both players had been rumored to be leaving and their contribution to the team will be essential as the season goes on. Veteran midfielder Idan Tal said he is looking forward to getting going. "After a very difficult summer there is nothing better than to get Hapoel Tel Aviv in the first round of games," the former Bolton player said. "We are coming with lots of energy to this game and I am sure there will be a carnival atmosphere." Besides increasing the number of teams in the league to 16, the IFA has made several more revolutionary changes ahead of the coming season. After two rounds of play in which each team will contest a total of 30 matches, the league will be split into three sections and each team will have its point total halved. The top six teams will play each other one more time to decide the champion, the bottom six teams will also each play another five times to determine the relegation battle, with the four teams placed in the middle of the standings playing three more games to decide who finishes in the seventh to 10th positions. "We will use this system for at least two seasons to check if it works," IFA chairman Avi Luzon said on Thursday. "Believe me, I know myself and I haven't made a mistake." Luzon also claimed Israel has one of the best leagues in Europe. "I think we will have a very good league. This draw is the answer to all of those who are struggling to make up their mind regarding the TV rights," said Luzon, referring to the fact that the IFA has yet to find a channel to broadcast the Premier League this season. "I've seen many leagues in Europe and I think we have the sixth to eighth best league in the continent." After it hosts Hapoel, Betar will travel to face Bnei Sakhnin in the second weekend of the season, with Hapoel to host Haifa on September 26. Haifa hosts Betar on October 24, with the first Tel Aviv derby between Hapoel and Maccabi to be played the following week in the eighth match-day of the season.