Maccabi Tel Aviv trounced Hapoel Tel Aviv 4-0 at the Bloomfield Stadium in Jaffa on Monday night to extend its lead at the top of the Premier League to eight points – 11 points ahead of its third-placed cross-town rival.
The writing was on the wall already in the 14th minute, when Maccabi’s new signing Eran Zahavi set up another recent import, Swedish international striker Rade Prica, for a deserved lead as the Maccabi fans applauded the eclipse of Hapoel as the city’s better team.
Zahavi’s strength is that he is the type of player who rarely draws cries of alarm from fans after making a basic mistake. Coach Oscar Garcia elected to open with Zahavi in a deep role behind his strikers, and in doing so solved one of Maccabi’s more blatant problems this season – the ability to quickly break out of defense and set up goal-scoring chances.
The added bonus was a flowing game of the type that Maccabi has rarely displayed this campaign. Zahavi’s excellent cooperation with fellow midfielder Maharan Radi, the best and most important player in Israel at the moment, and both players' unfettered movement gave the impression that Maccabi had two extra players on the field. The Yellows created countless scoring opportunities, and even twice as many goals would not have been an injustice to this one-sided derby game.
In the 43rd minute Eliran Attar headed in the second from a masterful pass by Radi, and the league’s highest scorer was on hand again in the 75th minute to convert from the penalty spot. Radi added the fourth in two minutes from time, pouncing on a Zahavi pass to complete the rout.
“We’ve had to change the team’s mentality and this is not a simple matter, but it’s preferable to do it when you’re winning,” said coach Oscar Garcia after the game. “It was a tremendous victory against a strong team."
“I’m particularly happy,” added former Hapoel Tel Aviv star Zahavi. “The motivation gave me extra energy."
Coaches and players know how to say after a rout of the type Hapoel suffered that they simply didn’t turn up for the game. But Hapoel did turn up for this game – and revealed its true face. Another new lineup of players who don’t know their respective roles on the field, more dealing with incessant cry-babies, another defense suitable perhaps for the second-tier National League, another embarrassingly uncoordinated performance and another rout.
“I’m ashamed of myself and my teammates,” admitted Almog Cohen. “We were awful – we couldn’t get any worse."
“We all have to apologize to our fans for that game,” added Abukasis. “My heart pains for those fans who come to support us every game, and we disappointed them. We made every possible mistake. Sometimes conceding an early goal can neutralize everything you tried to do. We didn’t do anything, and this hurts me."
Haim Ramon, Hapoel’s chairman and one of its owners, has been asked by other team owners to convene an urgent meeting of the club’s board of directors to discuss Abukasis’ future. The majority of directors appear to favor his dismissal, but the decision will be Ramon’s alone. Ramon, who realizes the need for change but does not want to make decisions under pressure, prefers to let Abukasis take charge of the game against Kiryat Shmona next weekend, and a loss will ease the way for his dismissal or resignation.