Soccer: Betar sets sights on strong finish

After coach Itzhak Schum was scapegoated for the club’s ineptitude, players will no longer have anywhere to hide if they fail to defeat Maccabi Netanya.

barak itzhaki 311 (photo credit: MK Productions)
barak itzhaki 311
(photo credit: MK Productions)
After coach Itzhak Schum was made the scapegoat for the club’s ineptitude, Betar Jerusalem players will no longer have anywhere to hide if they fail to defeat Maccabi Netanya at Teddy Stadium on Saturday night.
Former assistant coach David Amsalem will guide Betar for the first time on Saturday following Schum’s sacking after last week’s 3-2 defeat at Hapoel Haifa.
Betar has triumphed in just one of its last nine matches and is winless in its past six encounters. The team dropped to seventh position in the Premier League standings last week and is in serious danger of missing out on the top six playoff if it doesn’t improve its play dramatically in the remainder of the season.
Schum’s relationship with many of the Betar players was perhaps the main reason for the team’s struggles. The coach never got along with the players and they anonymously blamed him for their failings in the media.
Amsalem retired just last season and has an excellent relationship with his former teammates, although his coaching skills will come under immediate scrutiny as Saturday’s match will be his first ever on the sidelines.
Amsalem’s influence has already been felt, with captain Aviram Bruchian agreeing to postpone an operation he was set to undergo on his knee for a month-and-a-half to help the team out of its slump.
“We are all fond of Amsalem and we all want him to do well,” Bruchian said ahead of Saturday’s match. “We’ve spoken about this amongst ourselves and all the players agreed that we need to give our all and play for our honor, especially now that David is the coach.” Netanya enters Saturday’s match on the back of its biggest win of the season, a stunning 1-0 victory over the all-conquering Maccabi Haifa.
After a dismal start to the season, Netanya leapfrogged Betar into sixth position last week and the importance of Saturday’s match is not lost on star midfielder Shalev Menashe.
“The match against Betar is pivotal,” Menashe said. “It will be as difficult as the game with Haifa. Whenever a team changes a coach there is a different dynamic to the side and a new excitement among the players. I’m sure the change will have a positive effect on Betar, but we will be ready for the match and are first and foremost focusing on our play.”
Elsewhere on Saturday, Maccabi Tel Aviv will look rebound from its crushing derby defeat to arch-rival Hapoel Tel Aviv. Maccabi was outclassed by Hapoel and fell to a 4-2 thrashing on Monday, a score-line which doesn’t even tell the true story of Hapoel’s dominance.
Maccabi, which had won its previous six matches and was undefeated in its past 10 encounters, will be keen to get back to winning ways when its visits Maccabi Petah Tikva.
However, Petah Tikva will be tough opposition for the yellow-and-blue, with Freddy David’s men losing only once in their last eight matches, falling 1-0 to Maccabi Haifa.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Ra’anana hosts Bnei Yehuda, Hapoel Haifa visits Hapoel Acre and Ahi Nazareth travels down south to face Hapoel Beersheba.
The top two will be in action on Sunday, with Maccabi Haifa hosting Ashdod SC and Hapoel Tel Aviv welcoming Bnei Sakhnin.
Hapoel Ramat Gan hosts Hapoel Petah Tikva on Monday.
In other Israeli soccer news from Thursday, a former Maccabi Beershevaplayer and the club’s current chairman were remanded by the localMagistrate’s Court on suspicions of being involved in a match-fixingscandal.
Chairman Moti Abuksis and current Ironi Bat Yam player Yanai Deri arealleged to have rigged matches in an effort to help Maccabi Beershebato promotion to the National League last season.