Maccabi Ashdod looks to finish Cinderella run

Berkowitz’s boys hope to upset Maccabi Tel Aviv, which is seeking its 50th Israel league championship.

Maccabi Ashdod coach Ofer Berkowitz 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Ashdod coach Ofer Berkowitz 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will be going for its 50th Israeli championship on Thursday, while Maccabi Ashdod will be looking to become just the fifth team ever to win the local league title when the two sides meet at Nokia Arena in a classic David vs. Goliath showdown.
After 84 games in all competitions and over 71,000 kilometers in the air, Tel Aviv’s season will finally end on Thursday, and the yellow-and- blue is determined to finish it on a high.
Tel Aviv clinched the championship last season with just one defeat throughout the campaign and coach David Blatt has every intention of maintaining his perfect local trophy record on Thursday by adding a fourth championship to the four State Cup’s he has already won in as many seasons at Maccabi.
“If we play the way we did in the semifinals against Holon we can beat any team in Europe not just Israel,” said Blatt. “However, our performance on Tuesday guarantees us nothing in the final.”
Tel Aviv ended the regular season with a 23-2 record before sweeping BC Habika’a in the playoff quarterfinals.
However, one of those regular season defeats came at Nokia at the hands of Ashdod.
Ashdod made the most of the fact Tel Aviv was playing for the third time in five days on January 30, winning 78-73.
But it is safe to say that the yellow-and-blue will enter Thursday’s final far more prepared and determined and will likely also use that defeat to Ashdod as added motivation.
Nevertheless, Ashdod will draw some encouragement from that victory, especially as no one is giving Ofer Berkowitz’s team a chance to triumph in the final.
“We are not under pressure at all,” Berkowitz said. “This team has come a long way and we have had a great season.
We want to show what we are capable of and hopefully it will be an interesting final.”
Regardless of Thursday’s result, Ashdod’s campaign will be remembered as a resounding success.
Ashdod’s regular season didn’t promise much, with the team only ending it in seventh place with a 12-12 record.
However, Berkowitz’s decision to utilize the final games of the regular season to prepare for the playoffs paid off spectacularly when Ashdod overcame No. 2 seed Hapoel Gilboa/Galil in four games before beating No. 3 seed Rishon to reach the final.
“We know Maccabi is the favorite,” said veteran playmaker Meir Tapiro. “Tel Aviv has the tools to pull ahead at any given time.
“It isn’t realistic for us to proclaim that we are going to conquer Nokia. We are focusing on our play the way we did all season long.”
Tapiro knows that the outcome of the final depends almost entirely on Maccabi, which needed just 13 minutes to open a 24-point gap over Holon in the semis.
“It’s very important for us to win,” said Tel Aviv’s David Blu, who is considering retirement after the final. “It’s been such a long season, so many games and so many flights.
This is what we’ve been working for all year.”