Rocket fire forces postponement of matches

Beersheba and Ashdod’s games put off; Tel Aviv clubs highlight Saturday’s action.

Due to the ongoing rocket fire from Gaza to southern Israel, the Israel Football Association was forced to postpone on Thursday the Premier League matches scheduled to be played in Beersheba and Ashdod this weekend.
A new date for the matches between Hapoel Beersheba and Hapoel Ramat Gan, and Ashdod SC and Hapoel Acre has yet to be set.
Hapoel Ashkelon’s National League game against Betar Tel Aviv/Ramle and the match between Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Yavne were also postponed, but as of Thursday night all other Premier League and second division encounters are set to go ahead as planned.
Many of the clubs from southern Israel relocated their training sessions to the center of the country, with Hapoel Beersheba practicing at Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Kiryat Shalom complex and Ashdod SC being hosted by Hapoel Tel Aviv.
However, the rocket fire also reached Tel Aviv on Thursday evening, disrupting both Maccabi and Hapoel’s training sessions.
“Last night was very difficult,” Beersheba coach Elisha Levy said on Thursday.
“This isn’t the first time that we have experienced sirens, but this was worse. All our players live in Beersheba and they didn’t sleep. We are trying to do what we can to maintain a routine and we are trying to keep the players focused. As long as we could train in Beersheba we did, but once we couldn’t we moved to Tel Aviv.”
The Tel Aviv clubs will be at the center of Saturday’s action, with Maccabi looking to rebound from the 1-0 defeat to Hapoel in Sunday’s derby, while the Reds aim to gather momentum.
Maccabi dominated proceedings for much of the derby, but conceded an 80th minute Omer Damari penalty and ended the match with nine men, meaning it will have to manage without top scorer Eliran Atar and defender Carlos Garcia against Bnei Yehuda on Saturday.
The club found itself embroiled in controversy during the week after it was forced to release a statement that its new coach Oscar Garcia had turned down an offer to move to Club Brugge of Belgium following repeated speculation in Israel and Europe.
Contrary to reports that claimed Oscar negotiated with Brugge before choosing to stay with Maccabi, the Spaniard said on Thursday that he didn’t consider leaving the yellow-and-blue at any stage.
“I wasn’t interested in the offer, but I decided to go and meet them anyway,” Oscar said. “It was a very good offer that could have taken care of my family for life. But the Maccabi Tel Aviv project is more important to me at the moment.
The offer from Brugge was three or four times bigger than what I earn at Maccabi, but I turned it down because of the fans.”
Despite its derby win, Hapoel Tel Aviv still struggled for form on Sunday and Yossi Abuksis’s men face a tricky visit to Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Saturday.
Hapoel had lost two consecutive matches before closing to within three points of Maccabi with the win in the derby. But it will have to manage on Saturday without star goalkeeper Apoula Edel, who saved a penalty in each of the side’s last two games, after he was suspended for three matches for deriding Israeli referees.
Also Saturday, Maccabi Netanya hosts Hapoel Ramat Hasharon.
On Sunday, Betar Jerusalem welcomes Hapoel Haifa, which will be hoping to build on last week’s dramatic first win of the season.
Haifa required two stoppage time goals to beat Ashdod 2-1 and can send cross-town rival Maccabi Haifa to the bottom of the standings should it avoid defeat at Teddy Stadium.
Maccabi Haifa, which doesn’t host Bnei Sakhnin until Monday, is still searching for a new coach following the sacking of Reuven Atar on Tuesday.
Ran Ben-Shimon, who guided Kiryat Shmona to the championship last season, remains the favorite to take Atar’s place, but Haifa has yet to reach an agreement regarding his release from his contract with current club AEK Larnaca of the Cypriot league.