Hapoel Jerusalem will host Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israeli Classico at the Jerusalem Arena at 21:00 Israel time in a game that will be played in front of 9,000 fans as per Israel’s ministry of Health. The Reds are coming off a Champions League playoff win over Peristeri that was played without fans and behind closed doors due to the Coronavirus outbreak. At the other end of the court, the Yellow & Blue returned to Israel after falling to Red Star Belgrade in Euroleague action, but Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad had already clinched a playoff berth earlier in the week after defeating Anadolou EFES in front of only 3,300 supporters due to the COVID-19 situation.
The game will feature the return of Amare Stoudemire to the Arena in his much anticipated first clash with his former club. Jerusalem captain Bar Timor looked forward to STAT’s return to his old stomping ground, “I guess a lot of people were hurt by this move, it’s natural and logical. For those who had played with him, we will of course give him the respect he deserves, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. As players, we can understand what he did and we see things differently than the fans who are offended which is natural. I don’t think there will be nasty things said and yelled at him or things no one wants to hear, but fans are offended and disappointed so it’s just normal that because they were hurt, they want to give it back. But it won’t be too bad I’m sure.”
Reds coach Oded Katash is happy to have the fans back for the game after having already played one in an empty Arena, “With the whole Coronavirus issue, it was hard to play without fans and it was much less exciting. I hope the decision to allow fans won’t create more problems, but I am happy that there will be a decent sized crowd and we are looking forward to a good atmosphere.”
“It’s very important that we have the fans once again,” said Timor. “I think last game was one of the weirdest things that has happened. There of course are regulations and we have to honor them but it was just strange. I want to remind everyone that without fans, it’s probably not worth doing what we do, so we are very happy that the game against Maccabi will be how it usually is.”
However, with movement being restricted more and more throughout Europe, there are some legitimate concerns that the continental season may come to an early end. In fact Jerusalem’s Champions League playoff game in Athens will be played behind closed doors due to Greece’s ban on having fans in Peristeri’s home arena. “There is concern about the future of the season,” commented Katash. “It’s not just us but across Europe. Hopefully things will get under control and we can end the campaign properly.”
“This really isn’t a question for me,” explained Timor. “The players are less concerned about that but I am sure all of the staff around the club are breaking their heads trying to figure these things out. We have to focus on playing the games which is dependent on us.”