Soccer / Premier League

Somehow, It’s Not the Same Without Him

Hapoel Tel Aviv pays tribute to its No. 1 fan Arik Einstein.

The 11th round of Premier League games produced some fine goals but no real shocks Saturday, as Hapoel Be’er Sheva returned to the top spot with a convincing 3-0 win over Maccabi Petah Tikva.

But the day will be most remembered for the moving send-off for Hapoel Tel Aviv’s most famous fan. The team took to the pitch at Kiryat Shmona wearing shirts bearing Arik Einstein’s name. Also, the game was preceded by a ceremony devoted to Einstein, with the crowd applauding as his songs were played over the loudspeakers.

The game in the Negev capital was a drab affair until Be’er Sheva’s Maor Buzaglo grabbed the reins in the 53rd minute. The talented, if underachieving, midfielder stole the ball in the center circle and charged forward, exchanging passes with Siraj Nassar before blasting the ball home from the edge of the box. Nasssar added the second 12 minutes before the end with a fine swerving shot, and substitute Tomer Swisa rounded off the scoreline in the game’s final minutes.

Defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv will have a chance to leapfrog back into first place when it takes on Ra’anana tomorrow.

Saturday’s game at the country’s northernmost stadium was always going to be a stern test of Hapoel Tel Aviv’s character, following the 4-2 defeat to Maccabi Haifa in the team’s last outing, while Kiryat Shmona was hot on the shoulders of a 4-1 drubbing of Beitar Jerusalem.

For Hapoel’s beleaguered coach Ran Shimon, the fixture was particularly poignant, bringing him back to the Cinderella team he led to the title two years ago. In a touching piece of sportsmanship, Kiryat Shmona officials welcomed Ben Shimon and Hapoel’s trio of former Kiryat Shmona players Lior Levi, Bryan Gerzicich and Danny Amos with flowers before the kickoff.

After a lively opening in which Hapoel’s Omer Damari came close and Kiryat Shmona had a penalty appeal turned down, the visitors took the lead in the 16th minute when Yisrael Zaguri’s astute pass left Damari to slip the ball past Kirayat Shmona goalkeeper Guy Haimov.

But after half an hour, Ahmed Abed equalized with a delicious free kick into the corner of Hapoel Tel Aviv’s net that its young goalkeeper Boris Klaiman should have dealt with.

Hapoel looked more likely to score, but the hosts drew the next blood when Tamir Kahlon was fouled in the box then converted the penalty himself. But five minutes later Hapoel’s rising young star Zaguri brushed off three tackles before blasting the ball past Klaiman to restore parity.

Another coach returning to his former stomping ground Saturday was Shlomi Dora of Hapoel Haifa. Dora was given a warm reception by the fans at Bnei Sakhnin’s Doha Stadium, but its players were less hospitable as they brushed Haifa aside 2-0 to move into third place in the table.

The guests struggled throughout but kept a clean sheet until Haifa captain Yossi Dora was red-carded for a foul in the 56th minute and Hamad Ganayem scored from the ensuing free kick. Mohammad Ghadir put the result beyond doubt on the hour.

Bnei Yehuda coach Dror Kashtan will be under increasing pressure to resign after his team slumped to bottom place with a 1-0 defeat at Ramat Hasharon Saturday. The former national team coach is due to discuss his future with the club’s management today.

Beitar Jerusalem is another team that cannot win games of late, and has now slipped back to 10th place after Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Ashdod.

Abdullah Shama