Soccer: Hap TA's woes continue with Betar defeat

Table-toppers win 1-0 at Teddy Stadium, courtesy of a Cristian Alvarez diving header.

zandberg betar 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
zandberg betar 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
If Eli Gutmann hadn't realized the task he has ahead of him as the new Hapoel Tel Aviv coach, he surely did by Sunday night. Hapoel lost again in the league in Gutman's second game in charge, this time 1-0 to Betar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium. A Cristian Alvarez diving header two minutes before half time was enough to give Betar the victory, which stretched its lead at the top of the table to nine points, inching the league champion closer to another Israeli Premier League title. It is more than a little bizarre to see one of Israel's most significant soccer clubs rooted at the foot of the league standings with only six points from its first 13 games. The array of signings that arrived in the summer, from Fabio Junior to Reuven Oved, look like they might never create the understanding needed for a solid team performance. Betar again looked strong from defense through to midfield, although the sting has been taken out of the champion's attack in recent weeks with Romulo's dip in form. The key to Betar's success stems from its midfield, anchored by another impressive performance by Gal Alberman. Derek Boateng continues to provide the strength while Idan Tal is beginning to improve into the player he was at Maccabi Haifa two years ago. The Premier League will now take a two week winter break and it is only Hapoel Tel Aviv which will be in action before the 14th round of games gets underway on January 5. Amazingly enough Hapoel is still Israel's only representative in Europe and has a good chance of making it through to then UEFA Cup knockout stages if it manages a good result against Danish side Aalborg at Bloomfield on Thursday. However, considering the way the side played on Sunday, the Tel Aviv fans shouldn't get their hopes up. Hapoel hardly had a shot on goal, lacked any sort of guile in midfield and looked hapless up front. Wearing an all white uniform, Hapoel could have been mistaken for the England national team, something which was underlined by its disappointingly weak style and tactics. Although the home side started the strongest it was the visitors which had the first shot on goal. Oved picked up the ball outside the Betar 18 yard box and released an effort which flew over Tvrtko Kale in the Betar goal. However, that was as good as it got for the visitors as each Hapoel attack was easily broken up by the Betar defense, and with former Tel Aviv center back Shimon Gershon in full control, Jerusalem broke forward with intent. If it was not for the heroics of Hapoel's goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama Betar could have scored two or three. The Nigerian international pulled off a number of point blank saves in the first half, including a brave stop to prevent Michael Zandberg scoring in the 10th minute after Idan Tal had cleverly chipped the ball over the Tel Aviv defense. Alvarez should have taken the lead for the home side with 31 minutes played when he fired in from a few meters out, but Enyeama was up to the task again. The goal came from a free kick won by Alvarez himself after he was fouled on the edge of the area. Tal swung in a dangerous cross which the Chilean headed in with aplomb. The second half saw more attacking play by Betar and even less penetration from the visitors. As the game wore on it became clear that Hapoel has become a team riddled with a lack of confidence. Thursday will surely be crunch time for Gutman if he is to turn the situation around.