Team of the Year: Betar Jerusalem

There's a winning atmosphere at Betar where everyone involved with the club appears to be convinced that the league championship is rightfully theirs.

zandberg betar 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
zandberg betar 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Choosing the Israeli team of the year was not a simple task. Israel's Davis Cup team's stunning defeat of Chile in September captivated the nation, as did the national basketball team's exploits in the EuroBasket tournament. While Maccabi Tel Aviv was a disappointment for the first time in a number of years, Dan Shamir's Hapoel Jerusalem side won the State Cup and came within a second of taking the league title from Tel Aviv, often playing thrilling basketball. However, the way that Betar Jerusalem transformed itself from title challenger to a practical certainty over the first half of the year, and then cemented its position as the best soccer team in the country in the second half, clinched the award. For the last decade Maccabi Haifa had always been the team to beat at the top of the Israeli league, winning the league title five times in six years between 2002 and 2006. This all changed in May 2007. Just two years after Arkadi Gaydamak bought Betar the team stormed to the league title. While it is true to say that the poor quality of its opponents in the Israeli league, from Haifa to Hapoel and Maccabi Tel Aviv, gave Betar the opportunity to win its first league title since 1998, the team spirit, strong midfield, quality youngsters and support of the passionate Betar fans were all significant factors. There is now a completely different atmosphere at Betar to that of a year ago. A winning atmosphere where everyone involved with the club appears to be convinced that the league championship is rightfully theirs. Last season's league title was always somewhat shaky. Yossi Mizrahi was a poor coach who could hardly manage the mammoth task he had of leading the club he played for in the 1970s. While he was there when the team won the championship his choices of new players which he brought in in January were all wrong and Gaydamak was right to kick him out. But the team was still the best, and has been improved further since the arrival of Itzhak Schum as coach. This season Betar has cantered towards a second successive championship and, going into the second half of the season starting at Herzliya this coming weekend, it is difficult to see any other team stopping the lions from Jerusalem. The midfield is still key, with Gal Alberman the fulcrum which Derek Boateng, Michael Zandberg and Idan Tal revolve around. Romulo has banged in the goals and the defense has remained solid for much of the 2007/08 campaign. The contribution of Betar's youngsters, including Amit Ben-Shushan up front and Aviram Bruchian in the center of the field, has been as important as the players Gaydamak paid so many thousands of dollars for. Barak Itzhaki will be missed when he moves to Belgium this week, but Toto Tamuz looks primed to return to his best as the season progresses. It is still far from perfect and Schum will need to bolster the side if it is to progress further in the Champions League than the second qualifying round it competed in this year. The loss to FC Copenhagen was a massive disappointment for everyone involved. However, the way Betar has become head and shoulders above every other soccer club in Israel meant it had to be the Team of the Year.