The Last Word: Betar might be best in Israel, but Europe?

Team should have more depth, grit, resolve than Betar showed on Sunday.

Betar 298.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Betar 298.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
At 8:20 on Sunday night the reporter sitting on my left at Bloomfield Stadium looked at the clock on the scoreboard. "Twenty-seven minutes," he stated emphatically, before returning his gaze to the game between Hapoel Tel Aviv and Betar Jerusalem. At the time the players from both teams were in the penalty area, waiting for a Hapoel freekick to be taken. It was a potentially dangerous situation for Jerusalem, which had controlled the game for the first half hour and gone 1-0 up inside eight minutes. But it was nothing dramatic. Less than 60 seconds later it became clear what the journalist had been implying. Just like the previous Sunday, Betar had had its period of success in the game; now it was time for the comeback. As the free kick soared into the penalty area Baruch Dego fell to the ground and referee Menashe Moshiach immediately whistled for a penalty. Betar 'keeper Tvrtko Kale complained he had done nothing wrong, which video replays proved. Dego walked away with a smirk on his face, before sending Kale the wrong way, scoring in front of the delirious Hapoel fans. So far, fair enough - dodgy penalties are part and parcel of soccer. However, the way that the champions-elect fell apart over the next hour of play for the second successive week asks questions about the quality of this team and its potential for any kind of European success. The week before at Teddy Stadium against Maccabi Tel Aviv the equalizer spelled the end of Betar's impressive performance, but the game still ended in a 1-1 draw. On Sunday, Hapoel exposed Betar's weaknesses, completely ground Jerusalem down and made former coach, Itzhak Schum, look like a fool. The game went from 1-1 to 2-1 inside 10 minutes, and ended 3-1. The best team in the country, one which is heading towards its second league title in a row, should have more depth, grit and resolve than Betar showed on Sunday. Schum was angry in the dressing room after the game, shouting at Kale of all people. But by then it was too late. The majority of Israeli soccer fans would be proud of any team which makes a strong showing in Europe, just like Maccabi Tel Aviv has become Israel's team in basketball, whichever part of the country you hail from. The Betar staff should understand that winning the league carries a responsibility that needs to be taken seriously. Jerusalem should be doing everything it can to create a team worthy of representing Israel in the Champions League, not acting like a bunch of cowards who give up at the first sign of a fight back. This summer should be the time for Schum, manager Giora Spiegel and chairman Eli Arazi to take a good look at the squad and realize that wholesale changes are needed for the league winners to have any chance of getting through two qualifying rounds, thus making it to the group stages of the Champions League. The majority of these players are simply not good enough for such a challenge. From the current team only midfielders Gal Alberman and Derek Boateng are ready to compete in the world's premier club competition. Aviram Bruchian, Amit Ben-Shushan, Shimon Gershon and Idan Tal could just about get away with it, but the rest are well below par. The club is only allowed five foreigners in the squad for the Israeli league. But, aside from Boateng, there is room for four more. Cristian Alvarez has never been more than an average right back. Junior Viza was a failure from the start and Romulo has lacked any real bite since the turn of the year. Unfortunately, it seems the managment would rather not rock the boat and are only considering bringing in one or two extra players. Should they follow this path it will be a big mistake and will prove so come August. Like last summer against Copenhagen, Betar will undoubtedly fail to make it to the second qualifying game. It will be back to the drawing board once again and there's no reason to think the same won't happen the following summer. The management needs to have the attitude that even qualifying for the UEFA Cup is not acceptable, and the expectations and hopes of not only Betar Jerusalem fans, but an entire nation and Jewish soccer supporters worldwide, will go to waste.