Soccer: Confident Hapoel Tel Aviv sets sights on a double

Playoffs begin this weekend with Gutman’s boys hosting Bnei Yehuda.

hapoel tel aviv 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
hapoel tel aviv 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
For much of the past year it seemed as if Hapoel Tel Aviv would end its sensational season empty-handed.
However, seven straight wins, starting on Saturday against Bnei Yehuda at Bloomfield Stadium, will turn what threatened to be a wasted campaign into an historic success.
Hapoel trails Maccabi Haifa by three points with five matches remaining in the Premier League season, and as long as it wins on Saturday it will have its fate in its own hands entering next week’s crunch encounter against the reigning champion at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
Tel Aviv also advanced to the semifinals of the State Cup with a 2-0 victory over Betar Jerusalem on Tuesday and it will surely like its chances of lifting the trophy at National Stadium in Ramat Gan after being drawn on Thursday to face National League club Ironi Ramat Hasharon in the last four.
Bnei Yehuda plays Ashdod SC in the other semi, with both matches to take place on May 4/5 in Ramat Gan.
“The victory over Betar brought us closer to our target, but we still have plenty of work to do if we want to win the cup,” said Hapoel striker Itai Shechter, who has scored 30 goals in all competitions this season.
“Ramat Hasharon has beaten superior teams in the previous rounds and we will have to prepare properly for the match to avoid an upset. However, before we resume our cup campaign we have got several important league matches we are looking forward to.”
Bnei Yehuda, which lost 4-0 to Hapoel just last month, has desperately struggled against the top-four teams all season long. Guy Luzon’s side has drawn two and lost six of its eight encounters against the big boys, amazingly failing to score a single goal in any of the matches.
Maccabi Haifa will be a clear favorite to defeat Ashdod SC at home on Saturday and hold on to its three-point margin over Tel Aviv ahead of next week’s showdown.
Haifa saw its gap halved to three points after it only managed a 0-0 draw against cross-town rival Hapoel last week, but even with the absence of Biram Kiyal, who underwent season-ending surgery on Thursday, will be confident of getting the better of Ashdod.
Ashdod has won three of its last four matches, but has lost its last five games on the road, failing to score a goal.
Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Betar Jerusalem on Saturday in a direct battlefor third position in the standings and a Europa League berth.
Maccabi handed Betar a 1-0 defeat at Teddy Stadium just last week, butJerusalem will be especially desperate to win at Bloomfield after itsmid-week cup exit.
The battle against relegation will also heat up on Saturday.
Ahi Nazareth can climb out of the relegation zone for the first time inmonths if it beats Hapoel Haifa on the road, with Hapoel Petah Tikva tohost Hapoel Acre and rock-bottom Hapoel Ra’anana to visit Hapoel RamatGan. Also Saturday, Bnei Sakhnin hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva and MaccabiNetanya visits Hapoel Beersheba.