Season goes from bad to worse for Betar J’lem

Yellow-and-black drop into relegation zone, lose iconic player, and are docked two points all in one week.

Beitar Jerusalem 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Beitar Jerusalem 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Just when you think matters can’t get any worse, Betar Jerusalem’s dismal season hits a new low.
Betar fans were depressed enough after the team suffered a humbling 3-0 defeat at Hapoel Haifa on Sunday night to drop into the relegation zone for the first time this season.
But little did they know that the embarrassment at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium was just the beginning to a week they will undoubtedly look back on should the club go on to lose its top-flight status for the first time since 1992.
Just hours after the loss in Haifa, captain Aviram Bruchian boarded a flight for Poland where he signed a contract to join Polonia Warsaw, a demoralizing blow to Betar’s young squad, which had grown up idolizing the 26-yearold midfielder, who for all his struggles on-field, was undoubtedly a positive influence in the dressing room.
But before Betar fans even managed to recover from the departure of a club icon, the team’s hopes of survival were handed another hammer blow courtesy of the Israel Football Association’s disciplinary court.
Jerusalem was deducted two points for its fans’ racist abuse of Hapoel Tel Aviv striker Toto Tamuz during a match between the teams last week, with the court activating a suspended sentence it handed the club in April of last year for the racist chants shouted at Hapoel midfielder Salim Toama.
Betar was enraged by the ruling and will appeal it, but at least for the time being, the two-point deduction sees it drop to 15 points overall, although it does remain in 14th position, tied on points with 15th-placed Hapoel Rishon Lezion.
Jerusalem will need to somehow put all the week’s discouraging happenings behind it when it hosts Maccabi Netanya at Teddy Stadium on Saturday, looking to end its eight-match winless streak.
The match will be played in front of empty stands due to a prior punishment handed to the club by the IFA’s disciplinary court following its fans’ unruliness in the defeat to Bnei Yehuda last month.
At least coach Yuval Naim will finally have striker Leonardo Passos Alves at his disposal.
The Brazilian has trained with Betar in recent months, but the cashstrapped club only finally managed to approve his contract with the Budget Control Authority on Thursday and he is expected to already start for the team on Saturday.
The Brazilian and the rest of Betar’s squad joined club staff to bid Bruchian farewell in a tearful ceremony on Thursday.
“These are not easy times and clearly Bruchian’s departure is very very difficult for Betar,” Naim said. “The move to Europe will only do him good and we will have to overcome this loss.”
Bruchian choked up time and again during his speech.
“I was born a Betar fan, I live as a Betar fan and I will be buried as a Betar fan,” he said. “My heart and soul are with you and I’m begging you, please do all you can so that Betar will be an empire once more.”
Meanwhile, after extending its unbeaten run to 17 matches with a 0-0 draw at Ashdod SC to maintain a six-point gap at the top of the standings, Kiryat Shmona will be confident of returning to winning ways when it hosts Hapoel Rishon Lezion on Saturday.
The draw in Ashdod snapped Kiryat Shmona’s seven-match winning streak, but the northerners are still looking like the favorites to win the league title thanks to their steely defense, which has maintained a clean-sheet in five consecutive matches.
Rishon came back from two goals down to defeat Maccabi Haifa 4-2 last week for its first win in 17 matches, but it will be coming up against a far sturdier opponent on Saturday.
Second-placed Ashdod SC will have to manage without midfielder Nir Biton, who is undergoing a trial at Manchester City, when it visits Maccabi Petah Tikva on Saturday.
Hapoel Tel Aviv, which seems like the only club from the traditional big four capable of catching Kiryat Shmona, visits Hapoel Beersheba in a tricky tie on Saturday.
Tel Aviv’s 2-1 win over Hapoel Acre last week ended a four-game winless streak, but Beersheba has undergone a mini-renaissance in recent weeks, winning four and losing just one of its past six encounters.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Haifa visits Acre and Bnei Yehuda hosts Hapoel Petah Tikva. Maccabi Tel Aviv welcomes Hapoel Ramat Hasharon on Sunday, while Maccabi Haifa hosts Bnei Sakhnin on Monday.