Soccer: Betar, Maccabi TA take aim at Haifa

Soccer Betar, Maccabi T

After Maccabi Haifa maintained its perfect start to the season with a 2-1 victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv on Monday, the rest of the Premier League will continue to play catchup this weekend in the hope of remaining in touch with the defending champion. Maccabi Tel Aviv and Bnei Yehuda can close within two points of Haifa with victories on Saturday, with Betar Jerusalem a further two points back and just as desperate to claim a win to ensure it does not fall too far behind the Greens so early in the season. Tel Aviv began the season in impressive fashion, winning its first two matches before drawing 0-0 with Bnei Yehuda in its last league encounter two weeks ago. The recent additions of Slovenian Andrej Komac, Bolivian Ronald Raldes and especially Serbian Ivica Iliev, coupled with the team's position in the standings, have raised the hopes among the yellow-and-blue faithful that their beloved club might be set to challenge for the title this season. On Saturday, they will get another early indication of the potential of the side when Tel Aviv visits Hapoel Haifa. Shlomi Dora's men in the North lost their only home match of the season to date, falling 1-0 to Ashdod SC on August 29, but trail Maccabi by just one point after winning twice on the road at Maccabi Netanya and Ahi Nazareth. "We are very excited to be facing Maccabi," said Dora, who guided Haifa to the National League championship last season. "We have yet to play a big team and a win against Maccabi can give us a significant boost." Bnei Yehuda hosts Bnei Sakhnin on Saturday and will be confident of picking up the three points. Sakhnin claimed its first win of the season when it beat Hapoel Petah Tikva two weeks ago, but has not looked convincing and is likely to struggle against Bnei Yehuda. Betar finds itself seven points behind Haifa entering the weekend and can not afford to drop points against Maccabi Petah Tikva at Teddy Stadium on Saturday. Jerusalem has gathered momentum in the last couple of weeks, defeating Hapoel Petah Tikva 3-1 for its first league win of the season before beating Hapoel Tel Aviv 1-0 in the Toto Cup on Wednesday. The six bottom teams in the league all continue their search for a first league win on Saturday. The disappointing Maccabi Netanya visits Hapoel Ramat Gan, with both sides drawing two and losing one of their three matches to date. Hapoel Ra'anana hosts Ashdod, which has won two straight matches 1-0, with Hapoel Beersheba traveling to the winless Maccabi Petah Tikva. Nazareth, the only team to lose its first three matches of the campaign, visits Hapoel Acre, which has only picked up a single point so far.