A beautiful Salim Toama free kick, perfectly executed only ten minutes after his coach decided to send him into the fray with time running out, threatened to blur Hapoel Tel Aviv’s deep crisis on Saturday. But the threat lasted only seven minutes, until Kiryat Shmona recovered its senses and managed to score a fully deserved equalizer in added time.
The final result was, understandably, a bad one for Hapoel. Instead of a boring goalless draw, the outcome was a mini-tragedy, revealing the one weakness that hadn’t yet been exposed in the game: vulnerability, a low breaking point and a complete lack of any deterrence power.
It’s tempting to categorize Kiryat Shmona’s equalizer in metaphysical terms such as “bad luck,” or with cliches such as “when it rains, it pours,” but the truth is that the equalizer was a result of five or six dangerous moves, all coming after Toama’s peach of a goal which, in itself, was completely incongruous with Hapoel’s display until that moment.
It seems that even a hesitant and humble team like the defending champion understood that Hapoel was there for the taking. The equalizer was scored while taking advantage of the weaknesses Hapoel exhibited during the whole game, and in the past month: a lost ball during an attacking move that led to a disorganized defense, bad covering of the wings and sad man-marking within the box.
Abukasis’ team managed only one point in its last five games. Its goal difference in these games was 1-13. Taking the second round of league games alone, Hapoel is ranked among the bottom teams. During this period Hapoel was humiliated by the two other title challengers Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Tel Aviv and lost miserably at home to clubs with much smaller budgets.
Hapoel has been playing pathetic soccer for some time now. A coach with any sense of integrity would have resigned after such a string of games. A club owner with integrity would have fired him even before the last local derby, and certainly after. But Hapoel has an executive board, and its ownership is spread among 3,000 stockholders. The move was probably impossible with asking each one’s opinion individually.
Sans Abukasis, Hapoel will hold its decisive next six games on foreign turf: Three home games will be held away from the Bloomfield Stadium due to the punishment the club received after a bunch of stupid supporters raised a banner saying “Pnini should be gassed,” referring to Maccabi Tel Aviv’s basketball club’s ex-captain. These are probably the same fans who held a banner yesterday reading: “leave the fans alone.”
Most Israelis and half of Beitar Jerusalem’s fans are finally moving to get rid of the racist filth in Teddy Stadium, but Hapoel’s Ultras are suddenly showing their support for La Familia, the hardcore group of racist, violent Beitar fans. It seems that Hapoel Tel Aviv is going though an ugly phase. On all levels.