Israel soccer is back and ready to go this coming Saturday night as the Championship playoffs get underway. Originally scheduled for mid-March, the coronavirus caused a two and a half month delay in the campaign but with the league obtaining permission from the Ministry of Health the league will now run from May 30th until the beginning of July.
There will be a number of new rules and regulations that the league and teams need to abide by which are similar to those instituted in the continuation of the German Bundesliga. Anyone entering the stadium will need to have their temperature taken and anyone over 38 degrees won’t be permitted to enter the facility. In addition, each person will need to be wearing a mask and there will need to be distance kept between players on the bench as well as coaches and other team staff. At this stage fans will not be permitted to attend the games, however, that may change over they course of the month.
Chairman of the League Administration Erez Halfon spoke about the desire to get the league back up and running and the importance of following a strict code in accordance with the Health Ministry to ensure that the games resume without a hitch.
“The minute we were allowed to bring the league back we worked together with the Ministry of Health and instituted a set of regulations that would mean that games could take place without fans. Many don’t know this, but there are many many people who work behind the scenes in order for a soccer game to be brought to the fans whether they are in the stadium or at home. That includes a management and logistic team, technicians, media and many more. We needed to work with the Ministry in order for all of this to happen.
Anyone that will be in or around the stadium during a game understands that they have a huge responsibility and I ask that everyone follow the Ministry of Health’s regulations so that we can continue to bring the games back. We are also continuing the conversation about allowing fans back into the stadiums in a safe and appropriate way. We are all waiting with excitement for the games this Saturday night.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv will host Hapoel Haifa at Bloomfield Stadium in Saturday night’s first game since the shutdown. The yellow-and-blue are currently in first place with a record of 19 wins, 7 draws and no losses good for 64 points, translating into a six point lead over second place Maccabi Haifa. Coach Vladimir Ivic’s squad had scored 48 goals and have only conceded 7 which was first in the league at the time of the break. Budding star Yonatan Cohen leads the team with 10 goals and 10 assists, Chico Ofoedu has 9 strikes while Omer Atzily has found the back of the goal with 8 markers. Dor Peretz and Nick Blackman will both be back for the club while Ofoedu has been recovering from an injury and is in Nigeria.
“We’re very happy to get back to playing soccer,” said midfielder Ruslan Barsky. “We all missed playing and we have been waiting for this moment where our goal will be to keep the league title in Tel Aviv. This was a weird time to say the least and I can’t wait for the excitement of being able to send a through pass or make a tackle to help the team.”
Hapoel Haifa under the tutelage of Haim Silvas is in 6th place with a record of 10 wins, 7 draws and 9 losses for 37 points. The Carmel reds drew 0-0 with Bnei Yehuda in their final match before the break and will look to challenge for a place in Europe over the last ten games of the campaign. Nes Zamir leads the squad in goals with 7 while Gidi Kanuk has 6 assists.
Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Beer Sheva will also be on the menu Saturday night in a match up between the 3rd and 4th place teams that will be played at Teddy Stadium in the nation’s capital. The yellow-and-black won their final league game over Ashdod by a 2-1 scoreline while Beer Sheva fell to Maccabi Haifa 4-0. Shlomi Azulay leads Roni Levy’s Jerusalem with 7 goals and 5 assists and Ben Sahar is at the top of Yossi Abuksis’s southern reds scoring chart with 12 goals. Beer Sheva owner Alona Barkat made waves over the past couple of months when she announced that the team would be put up for sale after the players wouldn’t agree to a salary cut due to COVID-19.
With 15 wins, 4 draws and 7 defeats good for 49 points, Jerusalem will look to solidify third place while Beer Sheva with 13 wins, 5 draws and 8 losses for 44 points want to stay on their heals and close the gap.
Saturday night’s final game pits Maccabi Haifa against Hapoel Tel Aviv at Sammy Ofer Stadium. The Greens feature the league’s leading scorer in Nikita Rukavytsya with 18 goals while Omri Altman has 9 strikes for the Reds. Marko Balbul’s Haifa are in second place with a record of 18 wins, 4 draws and 4 losses for 58 points and Nir Klinger’s Hapoel side find themselves in 5th place with 11 victories, 5 draws and 10 defeats for a total of 38 points. Haifa would like to make a run at first place but know that Maccabi Tel Aviv will be a daunting challenge with ten games to go. Hapoel Tel Aviv will look to snatch a continental spot but also have to make up ground in order to do so.