The Last Word: A new prediction that just might come true

I believe Haifa’s season is about to implode, leaving Hapoel Tel Aviv best placed to pick up the pieces and win the league for the first time since 2000.

Back in 2006, when I first started writing this column, a far more experienced and accomplished journalist than myself gave me one crucial piece of advice – never make predictions, they nearly always come back to haunt you.
Even though my colleague was attempting to save me from future embarrassment, I wasn’t one to listen.
I have always felt this to be an outlet for my personal opinions on Israeli sports and therefore refused to shy away from stating my views, often to my eventual detriment.
One former night editor here at the Post, for example, tore out the February 2008 article in which I emphatically predicted, “Israel will qualify for the 2010 World Cup,” to use as evidence when Dror Kashtan failed to lead the national team to South Africa – as he did after the depressing reality came about.
Unfortunately for me, nearly every time I have put my expectations down in writing they have turned out to be way off the mark.
Hapoel Jerusalem has so far not come close to taking Maccabi Tel Aviv’s spot as the best basketball team in the country, as I said would happen in 2007, while Guma Aguiar’s long-term contribution to  Maccabi Tel Aviv doesn’t look like it will be anywhere near as significant as I thought.
And, I must admit, I got it all wrong once again at the start of this soccer season when I claimed Guy Azuri’s Hapoel Beersheba team would become a force in the Premier League while Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa would suffer from having to juggle European and local play.
Azuri has since quit the team from the South following a terrible time at Beersheba while Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa have been the runaway leaders of the top flight for the entire season, despite impressive showings in the Europa League and Champions League respectively.
But, even though I rarely get it right, I just can’t ignore my instincts.
This weekend’s 30th round of Premier League games are the last before the new end-of-season playoffs, where IFA Chairman Avi Luzon’s infamous point-halving plan comes into action.
Since the opening weeks when Maccabi Haifa won every league match until November 30, it seemed totally obvious that Elisha Levy’s Greens were galloping towards a second-successive championship.
But Eli Gutman’s Hapoel Tel Aviv has done its best to keep pace, and is currently just eight points off the top. Assuming Maccabi Haifa beats city rival Hapoel on Saturday and Tel Aviv has no problems defeating Hapoel Ramat Gan, the gap will remain at eight. But following the controversial point-halving it will only be four points – worth just a win and a draw.
Which leads me to my latest claim – I believe Haifa’s season is about to implode, leaving Hapoel Tel Aviv best placed to pick up the pieces and win the league for the first time since 2000.
Over the past three months Hapoel Tel Aviv has looked like the best team in the country, and it was only its slow start that has prevented it reaching the league summit so far.
Critics, including myself, have spoken out against Luzon’s league, saying the idea of cutting the number of points ahead of the final five games is simply unfair.
However it has had, and will have, its positive aspects, including the fact that it has motivated all the teams to play to their best abilities all the way through the season, in the knowledge that their advantages over lower ranked teams are smaller than they appear.
It has also ensured an exciting run-in, where the top teams will only play against themselves, meaning that there will be no boring games for the likes of Maccabi Haifa or Betar Jerusalem.
During these final weeks, Hapoel Tel Aviv will travel Haifa’s Kiryat Eliezer Stadium, where it has a fighting chance of defeating its championship rival, while a resurgent Betar Jerusalem could pose serious problems for Maccabi Haifa when the Greens visit the capital.
Many Haifa players, such as Yaniv Katan and Biram Kiyal, have beenshowing signs of fatigue over the last few weeks but those at Tel Aviv,such as striker Eran Zehavi, are still on form or only now hittingtheir stride.
With the title race well and truly on, a few slip ups by Haifa coupledwith a consistent run by Tel Aviv will leave Elisha Levy with no titlesat all from a season which promised so much.