Israel's Premier League Soccer Has More Worries Than Meet the Eye

Be’er Sheva’s problem is not only defense, and Maccabi Haifa’s only solution so far is Petah Tikva

“What is most important for the future is to play better defense,” Elisha Levy said after Hapoel Be’er Sheva’s first loss of the season Saturday night, 2-0 to Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona. The coach's words were directed as well at the huge mistake made by right-back Ben Biton, who allowed David Manga to score Kiryat Shmona’s second goal because he wasn’t paying attention.

Biton, who arrived in the summer from Nazareth Ilit, entered the lineup in the third round of games, as a substitute for Avyatar Iluz, who had been suspended. During the small amount of time given him on the wing, he left not a bad impression and even provided an assist for a goal in the win against Bnei Yehuda. One can only hope that he won’t turn into the scapegoat – Biton perhaps made a contribution to Be’er Sheva’s loss, but he is not the person who prevented it from winning.

Levy should also be worrying about Be’er Sheva’s offense. There, despite being in second place, the team is not lacking for problems. Dutch striker Glynor Plet was in the starting 11 only because Dovev Gabai has yet to find the back of the net this season, while Elyaniv Barda has not scored for over a month.

While the lack of scoring by these players attests to the superb abilities of Siraj Nassar and Gal Arbel, it would not be recommended to build on these players for the long run. “I am nervous, we’re all nervous,” Barda said at the end of the game. They should calm down. “When the first goal comes, so will the rest,” Alon Turgeman of Maccabi Haifa said last week. The striker kept the rest of the sentence to himself: “... or when Maccabi Petah Tikva turns up.” Hen Ezra scored the first goal after breaking out of Haifa’s half of the pitch, and Shlomi Azulay returned from the desert to head in the third goal, with help from Turgeman - or so it seemed.

“Tell the truth,” begged the broadcaster on the sidelines. “Was it with the help of the hand, the head or was it [Petah Tikva defender] Shmulik Malul? “

Turgeman, an honest guy, replied with a sheepish smile, “The hand, and then Malul.”

Considering the unending debate about the sharpness of his strikers, it is no surprise that Haifa coach Arik Benado chose to credit the goal to the player in green. “The strikers scored today, and that is what is important,” he said. “Turgeman, Azoulay, even Ezra, who is half a striker.”

In Haifa, they don’t want just any goals. They want goals by strikers, and for that matter to have the right stuff. Subsequently, a full table of personnel changes will be issued later this week. If Ezra is half a striker, than Gustavo Boccoli from now on is no longer a defensive midfielder, rather a fifth of a striker. Bosnian defender Edin Cocalic and fellow full-back Dekel Keinan will be reclassified as one-eighth strikers.

“Until we conceded a goal we were even with Haifa,” Maccabi Petah Tikva coach Moshe Sinai said in consolation. Using fractions would also be appropriate for him, because his team played a quarter of a game.

Ilan Assayag