The Last Word: Hap TA denied fair chance

IFA officials in charge of Toto Cup semifinal end up the talking point...for all the wrong reasons.

jeremy last 88 (photo credit: )
jeremy last 88
(photo credit: )
Wednesday's Toto Cup semifinal between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Tel Aviv could have been one of the highlights of the soccer season. There is rarely a better atmosphere at a sporting event in Israel than when the two bitter rivals from Tel Aviv lock horns, especially in a one-off knock out game, and even more so when it is a semifinal. Unfortunately, instead of a producing a fascinating contest in an electric setting, the Israel Football Association officials in charge of organizing the logistics were responsible for the game ending up as a talking point...for all the wrong reasons. The biggest mistake came in the timing of the encounter. You would be hard pressed to find any top European team playing on a Monday and Wednesday in succession. But, despite requesting that the semifinal be moved to a more appropriate day, Hapoel Tel Aviv was forced to play the match less than 48 hours after defeating Maccabi Netanya in the league. Hapoel coach Eli Gutman responded by picking a first 11 made up nearly entirely of younger players. Even so, the team didn't perform badly, and could have even won the tie had two superb efforts from Eran Zahavi not clattered against the cross bar on either side of halftime. After the game the three television analysts were unified in their condemnation of Gutman's team selection. However Modi Bar-On, Itzik Zohar and Shlomo Scharf's complaints were misdirected. Yes, the game could have been of higher quality, but the responsibility lies with two people - IFA Chairman Avi Luzon who refused to reschedule the game, and Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Avi Nimni, who directed his team to play in the most negative manner even though it could have produced a far superior and engaging performance. Nimni was in a difficult position and tentative to have his team attack out of fear of losing to Hapoel's second string squad. But the former Maccabi super star midfielder and his team should not be excused for the bunker-style tactics they employed after scoring in the first 15 minutes. The majority of the blame, however, lies with Luzon. By pushing Gutman into a corner, he made a joke out of what should have been a serious match. Granted, the Toto Cup is a strange competition involving only the teams from each division and is not treated seriously by most teams until the later stages. But once it gets to the semifinals, all the teams want to win and Hapoel was hardly put in the best position to be able to achieve that despite playing some of the best soccer seen in Israel this season. What is even more puzzling is that Luzon has not realized his mistake and the Toto Cup final has been scheduled for this coming Wednesday - two days after Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Maccabi Haifa in a crucial league match up. It will be interesting to see how Nimni responds in terms of his team selection. Moreover, there is every chance that Luzon's scheduling errors could allow Ashdod SC to win its first trophy after making its fourth Toto Cup final in eight years.