Reeling Reds must make up ground before time runs out

Tel Aviv knows it can afford nothing other than a victory when it hosts Maccabi Netanya at Bloomfield Stadium.

Hapoel Tel Aviv 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
After being outplayed in a 2-0 defeat to Maccabi Haifa last Saturday, Hapoel Tel Aviv finds itself in the one situation it despises most – in need of a favor from arch-rival Maccabi Tel Aviv.
The loss at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium left Hapoel two points behind Haifa in the title race, with three more matches to be played until the end of the season.
Tel Aviv knows it can afford nothing other than a victory when it hosts Maccabi Netanya at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday afternoon and will also be crossing its fingers for Maccabi Tel Aviv, which welcomes Haifa at the same stadium later in the day.
But first and foremost, the Reds will have to make sure they get the better of Netanya, a team which defeated Haifa 2-1 on the road two weeks ago and hasn’t lost in 12 league matches, with its last defeat coming at the hands of the reigning champion more than three months ago.
“Haifa deserved to beat us, but nothing is over just yet,” said Hapoel midfielder Eran Zahavi, who has been linked with moves to Italy’s Palermo and Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon in recent weeks.
“There are three more matches to be played and there is plenty of time to make amends. The destiny of the title is no longer in our hands, but we will do our best and if God loves us we will take the championship.”
Zahavi wasn’t pleased with the criticism directed at Hapoel after its sorry performance against the Greens.
“Last week you said that Hapoel will take the championship because it is the best team in the country, and all of the sudden everyone is criticizing us,” he said. “We may not be the exciting Hapoel team of last season, but we are still a good and strong team.”
Hapoel will be hoping the yellow-and-blue can continue its recent resurgence against Haifa, with Maccabi Tel Aviv winning its last two matches against Ironi Kiryat Shmona and Bnei Yehuda in impressive fashion after a run of four defeats in five games.
Last season, Hapoel felt that Maccabi didn’t give its all against Haifa in a 2-0 loss at the exact same stage of the campaign, but Greens striker Tomer Hemed, who has scored nine goals in his team’s last 12 matches, believes the Reds have no right to complain.
“First of all, everyone knows that Haifa doesn’t need any help from anyone,” Hemed said. “Everything depends on us, and it is a shame that some people are smearing a great club like Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“We proved that we are a better team than Hapoel and now we need to show that against Maccabi.”
Ironi Kiryat Shmona hosts Bnei Yehuda in the other championship playoff match on Saturday.
Betar Jerusalem will hope to officially secure itself another season of top-flight soccer when it visits Ashdod SC on Saturday, looking to claim its fifth straight win.
Jerusalem is currently eight points clear of Bnei Sakhnin and 14th place, which leads to a two-legged tie against relegation with a National League club.
Also in the relegation playoffs, Sakhnin will be desperate to take all three points at Hapoel Ashkelon, while Gili Landau guides Hapoel Petah Tikva for the first time when it hosts already relegated Hapoel Ramat Gan.
The mid-table playoffs will draw to a close on Saturday, with Hapoel Acre welcoming Hapoel Haifa and Hapoel Beersheba visiting Maccabi Petah Tikva.
Israeli soccer loses Mirmovich
In other Israeli soccer news, former Israel national team coach Yosef Mirmovich passed away on Thursday at the age of 86.
Mirmovich played for Maccabi Tel Aviv during his entire career between 1940 and 1958, helping the club to six championships and six cups.
Mirmovich went on to coach Maccabi on three separate occasions (1958-1960, 1966- 1968, 1988-1989) and also guided the national team in 1964 and 1965 as well as between 1983 and 1986.
Mirmovich was the one who suggested in 1942 that Maccabi switch to yellow jerseys as an act of solidarity with the Jews of Europe who were being forced to wear the yellow star.