The Israel Soccer League got back to business this past weekend after more than a month on the sidelines due to the country wide lockdown as Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Beer Sheva kicked off at Bloomfield Stadium in a highly anticipated matchup. However, the game didn’t live up to its billing as the sides played to a goalless draw that produced very few chances.
Head Coach Giorgos Donis’s Maccabi Tel Aviv entered the contest after defeating Qarabag 1-0 while Yossi Abukasis’s Hapoel Beer Sheva stunned Slavia Prague 3-1 in Europa League action. With both teams coming into the league tie with continental victories, expectations were high that the squads would produce a clash to remember as both coaches made a number of changes to their starting lineups.
The southern reds came very close to breaking the deadlock in the 44th minute when Josue and Elton Acolatse blitzed the Maccabi goal but couldn’t put the ball behind keeper Daniel Tenenbaum. Donis made a trio of substitutes to begin the second half to try and freshen up the attack which produced a couple of chances over the final 45 minutes. Itay Shechter had the best opportunity when the striker went one on one with Beer Sheva keeper Ohad Levita but his shot hit the outside netting of the goal as the clash came to a close with each side picking up a point a piece.
Maccabi Tel Aviv has collected only two points in three league matches this season with a date at Maccabi Haifa up next. “Our biggest issue was our state of play,” said a disappointed Donis. “We didn’t have the power, intensity and pace. We began the game well but we had issues on the attack. There are some things that are concerning and we will have to work hard in order to improve our play as we didn’t create many chances.”
Before playing Haifa, Maccabi will travel to Turkey to play Sivasspor in their second Europa League game after slipping by Azerbaijani outfit Qarabag 1-0 in Israel last week thanks to a 10th minute goal by Yonatan Cohen. The victory was the yellow-and-blue’s first in continental action since 2017 when they beat Villarreal 1-0 in Spain.
Last week Sivasspor fell to Villarreal 5-3 in a barnburner as the Turkish squad will look to pick up their first points in the competition when they welcome Maccabi. Veteran coach Rıza Çalımbay led Sivasspor to the group stages for the first time in franchise history and one player who will be familiar to Israeli soccer fans will be forward Larry Kayode who played with Maccabi Netanya in 2014/15 while former Italian Serie A midfielder Isaac Cofie and veteran Copenhagen midfielder Claudemir de Souza also feature for the squad.
Over at Beer Sheva Coach Yossi Abukasis reflected on the goalless draw with Maccabi, “This wasn’t our best soccer game and we lost a ton of balls partly because of Maccabi’s pressure and partly because of our lack of focus. I don’t like to use the word exhaustion but we didn’t practice much since our Europa League game last week which was played at a tremendous pace.”
Up next for the reds in league play is a home clash with Bnei Sakhnin in a game that will be played at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. But prior to the Israeli league contest, Beer Sheva will head to France to take on Nice in Europa League action.
Abukasis’s team will enter Matchday Two after shocking Slavia Prague 3-1 thanks to a pair of late goals by Elton Acolatse to seal the three points. The Czech’s dominated play throughout the first half but a 45th minute goal by Jonathan Agudelo gave Beer Sheva a 1-0 lead heading into the break. Lukas Provod drew Prague even in the 75th minute, but Josue worked his magic in the 86th minute setting up Acolatse as scored his first of two while the Dutch winger added his second of the match two minutes later to seal the surprise victory.
Beer Sheva will look to repeat the feat in France when they visit Nice who is coached by former Arsenal star Patrick Vieira who has done a solid job in helping the Ligue 1 side continue to improve. The French side last featured in the Europa League group stages in 2017/18 when they advanced to the Round fo 32. Notable team members include Danish striker Kasper Dolberg, attacking midfielder Rony Lopes, former Manchester United midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin and veteran captain Brazilian Dante.
There are plenty of other Israelis who will be taking part in European matchups this week including starlet Manor Solomon who plies his trade with Shakhtar Donetsk. Solomon scored the winning goal against Real Madrid last week in Champions League play and will look to duplicate the feat when he faces Inter Milan. Over in Europa League action, Antwerp star Lior Refaelov will play Tottenham after scoring against Ludogorets, Monas Dabbur who plays for Hoffenheim found the back of the goal versus Red Star Belgrade last week will visit Gent while Max Grechkin and Joel Abu Hana with Zorya Luhansk host Braga and Celtic’s Nir Bitton and Hatem El Hamed head to Lille.