They're not the champions

There is a positive side to Betar's Champions League exit.

toto tamuz 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
toto tamuz 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
A palpable feeling of disappointment descended on Teddy Stadium on Tuesday night the minute FC Copenhagen's Marcus Allback tapped in Jesper Gronkjaer's cross to give the Danish side the lead in extra time in its Champions League qualifier against Betar Jerusalem. The Betar fans knew there was little chance their team would score the two goals it needed to beat the Danes and the tie was all but over. And so it proved. The Jerusalem team had battled and created opportunities but the lack of an away goal in the first leg, which Betar lost 1-0 in Copenhagen, had been crucial. But although there were some negative aspects from the game, most significantly the lack of enough quality finishing by the strikers and another mistake by Croatian keeper Trvtko Kale, the fans and the management must pick themselves up and look to the positives. Yes, Betar wasted at least three good chances to take the lead in the second half, especially when Michael Zandberg was one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Yes, the finishing should have been better. Yes, the first half was a dire performance. But in the second half the Jerusalem club showed great character going forward and looked solid throughout. To lose in extra time to a team that includes two former Premerieship stalwarts in Allback and Gronkjaer, and that beat Ajax, Manchester United and Celtic in last year's Champions League, is no mean feat. To say it is now time to concentrate on the league is an obvious cliché. It is difficult for all involved when they realize that, aside from the glory, the main benefit of winning the championship is to gain the opportunity to play in European soccer's top competition. But Betar is a club in transition and in the weeks ahead the experience of playing high-level soccer will only be of benefit to the club as a whole and to the players themselves. As coach Itzhak Schum said after the game, the important thing is to build a tradition at Betar. This was only the first attempt at breaking into Europe's elite. There will be more chances, but only if Betar focuses properly in its league campaign as it will only get into the same situation next season if it finishes first in the local league. Betar will again be favorites to win the Israeli Premier League, and, looking at the performance of the team over the two legs, rightly so. Barak Itzhaki showed his versatility and skill in both games, playing on the right wing but still grabbing the team's only goal of the tie. Toto Tamuz finally shone for the Jerusalem team after months of insignificant play, and was only denied a beautiful goal on the half volley by the fingertips of Copenhagen goalkeeper Jesper Christiansen. On the negative side, Idan Tal needs to pull his socks up. After returning to Israel to a fanfare last month, the former Bolton player looked weak and ineffective. The second minus point was the performance of Brazilian striker Romulo - another little known South American who has come to Betar and is unlikely to stay too long if he doesn't start showing some goal scoring ability.