There is, perhaps, no better way to begin the so-called Championship Round of this 2011-12 Ligat ha’Al season than with another action-packed BIG TEL AVIV DERBY featuring traditional intra-city rivals FC HAPOEL TEL AVIV and FC MACCABI TEL AVIV.
However, unfortunately for local football fans, the latest installment of the Red and Yellows this Saturday will be played behind closed doors as a result of the tumultuous events that transpired at the most recent Big Tel Aviv Derby only eighteen days ago on the 5th of March.
Both the Reds and Yellows share the BLOOMFIELD STADIUM in Tel Aviv, which has an official capacity for 14,700 spectators. But it was FC Hapoel Tel Aviv supporters, 24 of whom were arrested afterwards, who clearly caused a tremendous amount of trouble in the last meeting with FC Maccabi Tel Aviv, which was a home match for the Reds. The ISRAEL FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION has clamped down hard on FC Hapoel Tel Aviv — three points deducted in the standings, three home matches to be played behind closed doors immediately in addition to a financial penalty of 40,000 Israeli New Shekels.
Furthermore, the two FC Hapoel Tel Aviv players who were both expelled by match referee Menashe Mashiah during the long seven minutes of time added on, midfielders AVIHAI YUDIN and SALIM TOAMA, have also faced justice from the IFA, as well. Yudin has been suspended for an unprecedented 12 games while Toama received a considerable six-match ban for disorderly conduct and other related charges. The Reds did issue an official statement stating the club intend to appeal the “harsh” decision.
FC Ironi Kiryat Shmona are all but certain to clinch the 2012 Ligat ha’Al title shortly (perhaps even this weekened), there is all to play for in the Championship Round for both the Reds and Yellows. Although FC Hapoel Tel Aviv are second in the standings on 49 points despite their penalty, there are three clubs only two points adrift and still another three teams, including FC Maccabi Tel Aviv, all within at least six points of the Reds, too. In short, the three Israeli places for the income-generating UEFA Europa League competition next season are anything but decided.
FC Hapoel Tel Aviv have done well for themselves as of late despite the losses. Trainer NITZAN SHIRAZI’s squad defeated last season’s champions, FC Maccabi Haifa, decisively on the road 4-1 and tied this term’s runaway leaders FC Ironi Kiryat Shmona 2-2 in Ligat ha’Al in the wake of the last Big Tel Aviv Derby. Just this past Wednesday, the resilient Reds needed extra time but were also able to oust FC Hapoel Bnei Lod 3-1 in the Israeli State Cup.
FC Maccabi Tel Aviv, meanwhile, had climbed to as high as fifth in the standings a couple of weeks ago but fell 0-3 on their travels at currently-fifth place FC Maccabi Netanya last Saturday. It should be noted that trainer NIR LEVINE’s side were without three regulars including striker BARAK ITZHAKI, second for the Yellows this term with eight goals in Ligat ha’Al, who were all suspended (too many yellow cards) for that match in Netanya. Israel international goalkeeper GUY HAIMOV had been on a roll for the Yellows before the loss, as well, posting four consecutive clean sheets after returning from an injury which had put the 24-year-old netminder out of action 17 games in Ligat ha’Al earlier.
The Yellows, of course, just recently put an end to nearly four long years of frustration and finally defeated the Reds in the last Big Tel Aviv Derby to stop a ten-match winless streak against their great intra-city arch-rival.
Israel international striker and FC Maccabi Tel Aviv club captain BARAK YITZHAKI, who netted three goals in 15 matches for Belgian side Racing Genk to close out the 2007-08 campaign before a move that summer to FC Beitar Jerusalem, looks to elude the sliding challenge of FC Hapoel Tel Aviv defender AVIHAI YADIN, who has since been issued a long suspension by the Israel Football Association, during the last Big Tel Aviv Derby match at the Bloomfield Stadium at the beginning of March.