Premier League / Hapoel Tel Aviv

Sinister Shadow of Primitive Soccer

Hapoel Tel Aviv hogged possession, Ra’anana held its line. One team couldn’t mount a threat, the other didn’t even try.

Deja-vu in Bloomfield. Just like the home game against Bnei Sakhnin a month ago, Hapoel Tel Aviv faced a physically strong team that could have tried to win, but decided to park the bus and see what the home team has to offer. At the moment it isn't that much. A season-high 12,000 fans caught the drift early in the second half. Usually games like Saturday's 0-0 are decided by one clear chance at goal. It was actually Ra'anana that got that chance when Anthony Nwakaeme advanced towards Tel Aviv's goal, but shot wide. Ra'anana's bench was in shock, but seven minutes later, the same bench leaped with joy to hear the final whistle. Ra'anana is still undefeated in the league, even though it couldn't boast any memorable soccer this weekend.

Ra'anana coach Menahem Koretzki never stopped shouting, often at the players on the field, and sometimes towards his own bench. His team looks fundamentally solid, with potential to play a decent game of soccer. Ra'anana isn't expected to battle against relegation, and its pitiful handful of supporters could never pressure the coach or the players. Still, instead of being adventurous, Koretzki remained loyal to his somewhat primitive game plan: defend, defend, defend, and hope for the best in counterattacks. It would be interesting to see Ra'anana try to equalize and actually be forced to push forward. But that could only happen if it conceded a goal, and Hapoel Tel Aviv were never really close to doing that, even though it dominated possession.

The Tel Aviv reds will probably have a mixed season. Meanwhile, the team is still pondering how to score against a team that parks the bus. Coach Ran Ben Shimon has, meanwhile, preferred to overlook veteran players Salim Tuama and Shay Abutbul, who both possess the know-how for precisely that mission. The most sinister shadow is Itay Shechter's woeful form. Coming back from European soccer, Shechter doesn't seem like half the player he was. Unfortunately it may be contagious, since Omer Damari, usually a rather prolific striker, also seemed to catch the virus, and was anemic at best.

Still, there are some good omens for Hapoel, mostly Sean Malka, the pride of the club's youth ranks, who was again introduced at halftime, spurring his team to life for a spell. Furthermore It seems that his older teammates are already aware of his talent. Orel Dgani, who arrived from Maccabi Haifa, is also moving in the right direction, and on Saturday Gil Vermouth completed his first full 90 minutes, even though he still has to overcome his fear of physical contact, having only recovered from a long injury that left him on the sidelines for most of last season. The other midfielders could hardly choose an incisive pass or any other creative move, so the game seemed, for Tel Aviv, largely an exercise in futility, hardly worth eight points in five games.

Nir Keidar