Israeli Soccer Star Seeking the Chance of His Life

— by Joshua Halickman

The last time Israel made it into a top-level soccer competition was 1970, when it went to the World Cup in Mexico. Now, with an excellent start to the 2016 UEFA European Championship qualification tournament, the expectations are once again high.

One reason for this is that the tournament has now expanded from 16 to 24 countries, allowing some of the smaller nations a chance at Europe’s top competition. The country will stand still when the National Team marches onto the field on Saturday night, March 28 after Shabbat in Haifa for the Wales game, and on Tuesday, March 31 in Jerusalem against Belgium.


Guy Haimov, one of the three Israel National Team goalkeepers looking to claim the starting position for Israel’s crucial Euro 2016 qualifiers.


As I was walking up to the Kiryat Shemona Municipal Stadium, I saw the beautiful snowcapped Hermon Mountain in the background of this picturesque facility planted right in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, far away from the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv. This is where the 2014 Israel State Cup champions play and train for their matches against the other sides in Israel’s soccer league, Ligat Ha’Al.

I was waiting for Guy Haimov, one of the three Israel National Team goalkeepers looking to claim the starting position for Israel’s crucial Euro 2016 qualifiers. Suddenly, I saw the figure of a man on a bicycle pulling up into the front area of the stadium. You guessed it: Haimov rides his bike to work each day. “I live close by and it’s good exercise” the 6-ft. goalkeeper said as we met at the main gate.

Israel started their European qualifying campaign by winning all three of its games and sits on top of their group with nine out of nine points. The upcoming match against Wales will feature one of the world’s best and most popular players in Real Madrid’s star Gareth Bale. Belgium is ranked fourth in the FIFA World Rankings and has a collection of greats including Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany.

The stakes are high and the pressure will be immense on those evenings especially for the starting goalkeeper, but Haimov said, “I am not even thinking about that yet.”


Guy Haimov preparing for practice.


As we ventured into the stadium, I got a peek at the team’s modest dressing room. Every player has a stall with his training uniform sitting meticulously folded waiting to be worn in just an hour as coach Barak Bachar’s team prepares for their next match in just a few days. Haimov put on his training jersey and fit his feet snugly into a pair of flip-flops and we made our way out onto the lush green grass and into one of the dugouts.

Sitting on the plastic molded seats we began discussing where we both came from. “Isn’t it dangerous in Jerusalem?” he asked me as I told him that I had traveled more than three hours to watch the previous night’s Israel State Cup match with Maccabi Tel Aviv that ended in a 1-1 tie. I countered, “Isn’t it dangerous here in Kiryat Shemona with what went on recently with Hezbollah by the border?” We both said no, we don’t feel threatened at all, soccer is our escape and savior from the harsh realities that surround Israel and the Middle East.

“I grew up in Holon and both my parents were born in Israel,” Haimov said.

Maccabi Tel Aviv was always my club, beginning when I joined the youth system at five and a half years old. In school I played soccer and I had no idea I would end up being a professional. We just played for fun and to be together with friends; that was the most important thing when I was a youngster. It was much later when I saw that I was good enough to play on the youth Israel National Teams at ages 14-17 when I started seeing myself potentially making it as a soccer player and as a professional.

Being a goalkeeper is not always the most popular position to play, as kids would always want to imitate their heroes, which happened to usually the top scorers in the world. Haimov found out that if he had any chance of playing with his peers, keeper would be the position he would have to try and master:

At 7 years old I realized that I just couldn’t keep up with the other kids. If I wanted to be like my idols Alexander Uvarov, the great Macacbi Tel Aviv shot stopper, Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus, or Iker Casillas at Real Madrid, I would need to change positions. I was lucky my parents didn’t think too much about it perhaps being a dangerous position to play and didn’t have a problem with me being a goalkeeper so off I went.

However, today my parents can’t watch the matches live and will record them to watch later, once they have already heard the result.  They will usually go out to the movies while I play and only afterwards sit down to see what transpired in the game.”

Being part of Maccabi Tel Aviv had many advantages for Haimov:

Growing up in the Maccabi youth system offered me the chance to receive the best soccer education both from the top coaches and some of the best players. All of the best kids wanted to go to Maccabi Tel Aviv because they were the biggest club in Israel and they had terrific management.

As Haimov continued to ply his trade under the watchful eye of Maccabi, he finally broke through to the club’s first team and started his first Israel Premier League match against Hapoel Petach Tikva on March 11, 2006 under interim coach, Dutchman Ton Caanen. He would have one more start that season but would end up tearing a ligament in his shoulder which would put him on the shelf for 8 months. However, when he finally came back from injury he was loaned out to Kfar Saba of the second division for a number of years.

Haimov thought that after his spell with Kfar Saba he would be back with the yellow-and-blue as the second choice keeper under former youth coach Ran Ben Shimon, but fate again would place him back into the second league for the 2009-10 season, this time with Hakoach Ramat Gan, under the watchful eye of former Israeli legend Vicky Peretz. After a good season, he finally had his chance to play significant games in the Premier League as up-and-coming club Kiryat Shemona, who now had Ran Ben Shimon as their manager would snag him own loan in 2010-11.

Kiryat Shemona is certainly a long way from the friendly confines of the Tel Aviv area and for someone who grew up in the center of the country, to move up north was something quite unique and definitely different. But soccer is soccer and Haimov had finally earned his chance to spend some serious minutes in goal playing against the best talent Israel offered.

It was also an opportunity to wipe away some grudges as Haimov’s side defeated Maccabi Tel Aviv 4-0 and earned a shutout against his former club. “After that match, Maccabi, which now had manager Motti Ivanir in place of recently fired Avi Nimni, wanted me back and I signed a 3-year contract,” he said.

With Maccabi Tel Aviv for the 2011-12 season, Guy knew he would have a fair chance to play some significant minutes at his childhood club. And minutes he would play where he saw success both on the European stage as well as domestically:

One of the biggest thrills in my career was to beat Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos in the UEFA Europa League at home in Bloomfield Stadium 3-0. As well, I scored a clean sheet against Tel Aviv rivals Hapoel winning 1-0 which was an incredible feeling, especially when I had to be interviewed by Avi Nimni, Maccabi’s former manager who didn’t want me. That gave me incredible satisfaction knowing I was able to show those who doubted me that I could reach the top.

After a good season for the young ‘keeper, Maccabi brought in a new technical director, Jordi Cryuff who made it clear that he would want to bring in a foreigner to play goal in Tel Aviv. Though Cryuff would have been happy to have Haimov as his second choice keeper under new coach Oscar Garcia, he knew he had to play game in and game out:

I understood that it was nothing personal and in order for me to continue to progress I needed playing time. That’s where Ran Ben Shimon came back into the picture again and I joined him in Cyprus on loan once again.

Together with his wife Cindy, who was also raised in Holon, and baby boy Amit (the family has since had another child, Avigail), Haimov moved quickly to find a home on the island country. Just a 40-minute flight from Israel, he started playing for his new team AEK Larnaca and ended up setting the Cyrus all-time shutout streak record manning goal for Ben Shimon:

Going to Cyprus was the best decision that I made and I had no time to think about it as everything happened so fast. There were about 10 other Israeli soccer players in Cyprus at the time and the Rabbi at the local Chabad house made us feel so welcome. The supporters were also extremely kind after they found out what I could do for their club and I didn’t feel one negative sentiment the whole time I was there.

However the Cypriot banks collapsed and Haimov had not received many months of salary, so he went back to Israel even after he had received a number of offers from other teams in Cyprus as well as Greece:

I came back to Maccabi Tel Aviv for the 2013-14 season training camp under new coach Paulo Sousa but I knew I would not begin the year with the club. My agent Gilad Katsav was able to secure a transfer back to Kiryat Shemona as owner Izzy Sheratzky bought my contract and I became the undisputed #1 starter for the team.

Sheratzky is ironically a savvy Tel Aviv businessman who decided to take a small time club in a quiet town and build it into a contender that is able to threaten teams with much larger budgets than theirs.

In his first year back up north, Haimov played in every Israel league match last season where he had a staggering 14 shutouts leading Kiryat Shemona to a third place finish. The team also won the Israel State Cup for the first time in the franchise’s history and had the chance to hoist the trophy after being presented by the outgoing president, Shimon Peres. This year the team is fighting for the legue title, only a few points out of first place, behind Maccabi Tel Aviv.

“I am always active and never rest as I’m always prepared to play in every game. If you relax and take games off you become vulnerable,” the keeper professed.

It’s thanks to Hezy Nachshon & Koby Bitran who coached me when I was young at Maccabi, Ami Genish my goaltending coach at Ramat Gan and now Pini Avraham the Kiryat Shemona keeper coach that have made me the athlete I am today, and gave me the opportunity to play the way I am capable of.

Of course Barak Bachar, my coach and former teammate at Kiryat Shemona, has tremendous confidence in me. When we both played together back a few years ago we used to play Playstation and we ate together on Friday nights. Now that he is coach we have been able to adapt the relationship to be that of player and coach.

Hezy Nachshon knew that Haimov was something special right from the get-go:

I know Guy since he was 13, and after a few practices with the Maccabi Tel Aviv youth program, I saw that he was ahead of the other children playing keeper. I took him on as a personal project where I would work with him prior to the regular practice.

Haimov, a veteran National Team keeper, has only played in one match for his country but has been either the number-two or -three goalkeeper for a few years:

Dudu Aoute had been the starter for so many years and now that he is retired the opportunity is open.

I would love to be able to get a chance to play again for Israel as the only game I did play was a huge disappointment. I had come in for an injured Aoute in the second half of a match in Croatia, but we got a red card early on and I ended giving up three goals as we lost 3-1.

It’s my dream to be able to lead Israel out onto the pitch against Wales and Belgium knowing it’s a responsibility to represent Israel and the Jewish people around the world. I want that second chance.

The competition is stiff with Ofir Marchiano of Ashdod and Ariel Harush of Netanya looking to claim the coveted spot, however both Nachshon and Ami Genish weighed in saying that Haimov without a doubt should be the starting keeper for the National Team. Perhaps the fact that he wears the number 55 for his club team representing double hamsa, will help as well and he will be between the pipes at the end of March.

Very often, the cream of the crop of Israeli players head over to the stronger leagues in Europe to see how they can match up against the best of the best, but for now Kiryat Shemona is Haimov’s home as the 29-year-old has no designs to play outside of Israel again, but as he says you never know. He also understands that the lifespan of a goalkeeper is much longer than that of a regular player and has many years left to give on the field of play so he has not thought much about what will be after his career is over. “I can play until 40 and after that I would like to get my coaching certificate and be a goalkeeper coach or even a head coach,” he said.

Haimov said that in Israel, much needs to be done to help improve the quality of the players being produced in the youth system:

If I was the head of the Israel Football Association I would invest in the youth. From facilities, to the culture and seriousness that we see around the world, this is something that is a must in Israel. You can see the difference in other countries, Israel must put its energies into the youth program and help the many talented players that our country has. This is where we need to build and put our best efforts into.

As we were both looking out onto the gorgeous landscape shimmering in the sun, Haimov had a message to all of Israel’s supporters, friends and the Jewish people around the world:

We should be proud to be Jewish, we should never be afraid to do anything, we should reach for our dreams because G-d is with us and we can rely on G-d for guidance. Come and visit Israel to see the wonderful cities, encounter the people, but most importantly come to the Holy Land and support us.

Who could refuse such an invitation, as the Israel National Team is about to embark on two of their most important matches in the last 45 years?

Soccer: Maccabi Close to Europa Round of 32 After 4-2 Over Frankfurt

Barak Yitzhaki against Frankfurt.

— by Amir Shoam

Maccabi Tel Aviv made a big step toward the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 today, beating Eintracht Frankfurt 4-2 in Bloomfield Stadium, Tel Aviv.

With this win, Maccabi is second to Frankfurt in Group F, having previously lost to Frankfurt 0-2, beaten French team Bordeaux 2-1, and drawn 0-0 with Cyprus champion APOEL. After playing twice against each of its group rivals, the top two teams in each group will advance to the next round.

More after the jump.
Europa League, formerly the UEFA Cup, is the second-most important European club competition, consisting of champions of average leagues, and average teams of big leagues, such as Frankfurt, that finished sixth in the German Bundesliga last season.

Israeli midfielder Eran Zahavi scored first in the 14th minute. Two goals by striker Barak Yitzhaki in five minutes enlarged Maccabi’s lead to 3-0 by the 35th minute.

Croatian striker Srdan Lakic scored for Frankfurt in the 63th minute, and German midfielder Alexander Meier brought his team back to 3-2 with a penalty kick four minutes later. In the fourth and last minute of overtime, Zahavi scored a penalty kick of his own to set the final score.

Five Philadelphians in U.S. Futsal Team for the Maccabiah

Due to its similarity to soccer and the smaller field and number of players, futsal is an extremely popular hobby around the world. “Futsal in Brazil is like basketball or baseball here in the U.S. In fact, at younger ages they play it instead of soccer,” explained Michael Monheit, chair and head coach of the U.S. futsal team for the upcoming Maccabiah Games.

Two years ago, Monheit established the American Futsal Academy in King of Prussia. “Before that, clubs in the area used futsal for practice, but there were no actual futsal clubs here,” he said.

We established a new club in order to bring together the best futsal players in Greater Philadelphia, and we won the northeast championship in three age categories in our debut season, and in two age categories last year.

Monheit, an attorney and internet marketing manager for his living, took the reins of the Maccabiah team nine months ago. In the final squad for the tournament he included four players from Greater Philadelphia. “We selected many players from the northeast because we wanted to be able to practice frequently,” he explained. “Futsal depends a lot on timing, set plays and coordination between the players. In this way it reminds of basketball more than of soccer.”

While the popularity of the Major League Soccer has increased since the arrival of European stars in their early 30s such as David Beckham and Thierry Henry, futsal is a bit different game: Each team has five players on a field about the size of a basketball court. “Due to the smaller number of players, the players need to be more versatile,” said Monheit.

The four field players switch positions all the time, and even the goalkeeper has an important role in starting counter-attacks after he makes a save. Because of the size of the field, the transition from defense to attack is a lot quicker. For soccer teams, futsal is an important practice way for those aspects.

“Most of our players played soccer for most of their lives and only recently started playing futsal regularly,” continued the coach.

Futsal is growing around the world and about 20 teams will participate in the coming tournament. Despite that, I believe that we have a real chance to win a medal. We practice a lot and participated as a team in northeast tournaments. If you defend well, you can keep the score low and have a chance to beat a technically better team.

One of the players in the team is Monheit’s son, Matthew. The 21-year-old played soccer since the age of 4 and until last year, including the famous Coppa team in high school and the varsity team of MIT, where he studies environmental engineering. He has also participated in the previous Maccabiah Games with the Under-19 soccer team.

While being able to play in all four field positions, he prefers to play as the pivot — standing close to the opposition goal and taking advantage of the defense’s marking of him to create scoring opportunities for the two wingers playing on his sides.

“In the coming tournament there will be teams that are better than us, like Brazil and Israel,” said Matthew. “Winning a medal won’t be easy, but I think it’s possible.”

Unlike other players, which are often coached by their fathers in early ages, it’s the first time that my father coaches me. I really enjoy it. It helps me understand the game on the team level, and I also help him in the organization of the team, like an assistant coach.

On the other side of the field you can find Mike Markovitz, who plays as a “defender.” In addition to being the last line of defense, he coordinates the attacking play. In ninth grade, after 10 years of playing soccer for local teams, he joined the Lower Merion Velez, where under an Argentina-born coach which was specialized in futsal he participated in a few tournaments every year. At 20 years old, he captains the University of Pennsylvania club team, as he chose to focus on his bio-medical engineering studies and not to join the varsity team, which practices more often. In the summers, he plays for Philly United in the national Under-23 soccer league.

After representing the U.S. in smaller Maccabi tournaments in Argentina, Italy and Australia, he was hoping to qualify to the soccer team for the coming Maccabiah, but was eliminated in the trials as he was injured at the time and could not play to his full ability. To his fortune, Monheit was present in the trials and advised him to join his team.

“After watching some of our rivals in video, I think we have a good chance for a medal,” Markovitz said.

I really like the squad that we have. Since most of our players are young, if we keep holding practices after the tournament we will return much better for the 2017 games. I am very excited to play for this team and to fly to Israel for the first time.

Full U.S. squad for the tournament:

  • Jesse Goleman from Pittsburgh, PA;
  • Ari Lewis from Jericho, NY;
  • Michael Markovitz from Blue Bell, PA – University of Pennsylvania;
  • Matthew Monheit from Philadelphia, PA – Massachusetts Institute of Technology;
  • Alexander Moshal from Wynnewood, PA – George Washington University;
  • Noah Rothstein from Los Angeles, CA – George Washington University;
  • Nicholas Salinger from Newton, MA;
  • Powell Schneider from Cambridge, MA;
  • Samuel Stein from Bryn Mawr, PA; and
  • Samuel Stone from Maplewood, NJ – Bryant College.

No Mention in US Media for Discrimination Against Israeli Athletes

CAMERA has reported The New York Times‘ penchant for covering racism in soccer, especially where Israelis are concerned. In a Jan. 31, 2013 article about protests by Beitar soccer fans against the recruitment of Muslim players, bearing the headline “Some Fear a Soccer Team’s Racist Fans Hold a Mirror Up to Israel,” the “newspaper of record” used the event as an opening to indict all of Israeli society as racist.

In fact, The Times printed a second article in the span of ten days with the same false narrative — that because there are some intolerant Israelis, there is “a broad phenomenon of racism in all of Israeli society.”

Of course, this is an example of how Israel is held to a separate and unequal standard because, as CAMERA noted:
[Read more…]

Rugby: After Navy Seals Camp, US Maccabiah Squad Announced

— by Sara Feinstein

Jeff Simon and Josh Kaplan, 19th Maccabiah USA Open Rugby Co-Chairmen, announced the complete appointment of the Open Men’s Rugby Team that will compete in Rugby 15s and Rugby 7s at the 19th World Maccabiah Games in Israel in July. Final trials took place from January 30 to February 3 at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA. Over 40 applicants for the team gathered for intensive fitness training, which included a rigorous workout with the U.S. Navy Seals at their facility on Coronado Island and culminated with a match against the San Diego Aztecs.

After the jump: Soccer team also announces its squad.
Coach Shawn Lipman, Assistant Coaches Gregory Schor Haskin and David Rudzinsky, with Managers Barry Seidel and David Danker, have been working with the Rugby applicants over the last year to develop an elite team through intensive conditioning and fitness training.

“Shawn and the entire management team have done an amazing job of building a foundation for our rugby program, where we have been able to attract the best Jewish Rugby players from the USA,” commented Simon. “We have high expectations for the team to take gold medals in both Rugby 15s and Rugby 7s.”

The team roster includes: Zack Abbott of Ann Arbor, MI; Gabe Adler of Los Angeles, CA; Ross Biestman of Oakland, CA; Jared Braun of Berkeley, CA; David Cohen of Marietta, GA; Joel Cohen of Rockville, MD; Seth Cohen of New York, NY; Shawn Cox of Austin, TX; Matthew Crawford of Walnut Creek, CA; Aaron Davis, Team Vice Captain, of Venice, CA; Elliot Dillon-Herzog of Evanston, IL; Raymond Fleser of Narragansett, RI; Taylor Howden of Denver, CO; Joji Kurosaki of Portland, OR; Max Levine of San Francisco, CA; Guy Matisis of Weymouth, MA; Tanner Mohr of Davis, CA; James Murray of New York, NY; Jacob Poliakoff of Poway, CA; Alan Roniss of Long Beach, CA; William Rudman of San Francisco, CA; Michael Rudzinsky of Reading, MA; Ross Silverman of Santa Barbara, CA; Joshua Slater of Denver, CO; Dallen Stanford, Team Captain, of Santa Monica, CA; Kevin Swiryn of Bellevue, WA; Zach Test of Redwood City, CA; Jasper Wilson of New York, NY; Roman Wilson of Norman, OK; Ilya Wortman of Boston, MA.

David Stone, USA Open Men’s Soccer Chair for the 19th World Maccabiah Games, also announced the Open Men’s Soccer team that will participate in the Games. The team will be coached by Preston Goldfarb, whose vast experience includes coaching soccer at the NCAA level for 30 years. Goldfarb will be assisted by Russ Warren.

“Coach Goldfarb has great tactical abilities, as well leadership qualities that will make him ideal for the Maccabiah Team. The players look up to and respect him,” Stone said. “”I expect this team to be very competitive and they will advance to the medal rounds. The team is well-balanced and made up of very strong, tested athletes from some of the best college and club teams in the nation.”

“Expectations for this team are very high. I believe we have the right players to make this team a strong competitor for the Gold Medal,” Goldfarb said. “I always wanted to coach the Open Men’s Soccer Team after coaching the Juniors Team in 2009. This would be the pinnacle of my coaching career, and having a chance to win the Gold makes it more significant.”

Team members include: David Abidor from Northbrook, IL, a sophomore at the University of Dayton; Alexander Arsht from La Jolla, CA, a junior at the University of California San Diego; Ross Friedman from Bexley, OH, a sophomore at Harvard University; Adam Green from Chicago, IL, a graduate of California University of Pennsylvania; Ryan Jones from Holland, PA, a senior at Marywood University; Matthew Kadoch from Wallingford, PA, a senior at Millersville University; Daniel Kohen from Beverly Hills, CA, a sophomore at San Diego State University; Kovi Konowiecki from Long Beach, CA, a junior at Wake Forest University; Scott Lakin from Deerfield, IL, a junior at Northwestern University; Michael Lisch from Austin, TX, a junior at Wake Forest University; Jacob Lissek from Highlands Ranch, CO, a junior at Fairleigh Dickinson University; Steven Miller from Ivyland, PA, a graduate from Colgate University; Evin Nadaner from Bronx, NY, a junior at Boston University; Charles Paris from Venice, CA, a graduate of Yale University; William Pleskow from Culver City, CA, a sophomore at the University of Washington; Drew Rosenberg from Short Hills, NJ, a senior at Peddie School; Scott Rowling from Richboro, PA, a graduate of the University of New Hampshire; Nathaniel Schnitman from Calabasas, CA, a freshman at the University of California Los Angeles; Gary Weisbaum from Baltimore, MD, a graduate of Loyola University Marymount; and Adam Zernik from San Diego, CA, a senior at the University of California San Diego.

Basketball: Maccabi Struggles To Finish The Round Perfect

– by Amir Shoam

Maccabi Tel Aviv finished the 1st round of the basketball Euroleague group stage with a perfect 5-0 score, after a close-fought 78-76 win over Alba Berlin. Maccabi (this time in blue uniforms) scored the first 12 points of the game, but Alba showed improvement during the first half and first equalized the score at 30-30. The host even led 40-46 during the 3rd quarter, but another impressive run sent Maccabi back to lead 52-47. Alba missed its last throw, which cost it the game.

More after the jump.
Tonight’s hero was forward Devin Smith, with 20 points, 3 assists and 1 block in 28 minutes. Israeli swingman Guy Pnini made an important contribution off the bench, with 11 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 assist in 16 minutes. Malcolm Thomas added 9 points, 6 rebounds and a steal in 22 minutes. Next Thursday Maccabi will host the Spanish Unicaja Malaga.

Soccer – Hapoel Tel Aviv was beaten 0-4 in Czech by Viktoria Plzen in the European league group stage. On Sunday the team will play against Maccabi Tel Aviv, and coach Yossi Abukasis had decided to keep many of his first-stringers on the bench in order to rest them.

Basketball: Maccabi Seeks A Perfect First Round

– by Amir Shoam

Maccabi Tel Aviv will play tomorrow in Germany against Alba Berlin in the basketball Euroleague group stage. Maccabi has a 4-0 score so far in the competition, and another win tomorrow will complete a perfect first round. “Berlin is a great place to play in. The problem is that Alba is a great home team”, said head coach David Blatt. So far in the tournament Alba has a 2-2 record.

More after the jump.
Last Sunday Maccabi had another impressive domestic league win, 87-67 over Maccabi Haifa. The men in yellow led 32-16 after the first quarter, and although Haifa roared back its energy was over by the last quarter. A dispute occurred in the first half over Yogev Ohayon’s angry response to a foul made on him while the game was paused. David logan was named man of the match for his 19 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds. Ohayon added 11 points and 6 assists, while Georgian center Giorgi Shermadini contributed 11 points and 8 rebounds.

Soccer – Hapoel Tel Aviv lost this week 2-1 to Maccabi Netanya, and another loss against Maccabi Tel Aviv this Sunday will open a gap of 9 table points between the two teams and severely hurt the reds’ championship aspirations. Tomorrow Hapoel will play in Czech against Viktoria Plzen in the European league group stage, but Coach Yossi Abukasis declared that the game against Maccabi is more important and that he will bench a few of his stars in order to rest them in preparation for it.

Israeli Basketball: A Very Yellow Weekend

— by Amir Shoam

Maccabi Tel Aviv thrashed Polish champion Prokom Gdynia 93-62 last Thursday in the basketball Euroleague group stage. The win came four days after the humiliating domestic league defeat, 64-81 to Maccabi Rishon Lezion. Maccabi led 27-13 after the first quarter on the way to 50-30 at the break, and most of the second half became “garbage time.” (With little doubt in the final result coaches of both teams replaced their best players with substitutes in order to protect their stars from injury and give their second stringers valuable playing experience.)

More after the jump.
Ricky Hickman led the side with 14 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals in 24 minutes. David Logan added 13 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists in 22 minutes. The most influential Israeli was point guard Yogev Ohayon, with 8 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and no turnovers in 24 minutes.

The win kept Maccabi on top of group B with 4 wins out of 4 games. Next Thursday the team will play in Germany against Alba Berlin (2 wins, 2 losses) in the final game of the 1st round.

Maccabi’s head coach, David Blatt, announced earlier this week that he will not continue as the head coach of the Russian national team, “for personal reasons”. Just over a year from his appointment, the American/Israeli coach led the team to win the 2007 European championship. He later won the bronze medal in both the 2011 continental championship and the Olympic tournament last summer.

Jordan Farmar contributed 18 points to one of the Euroleague’s greatest upsets of recent years: Efes Istanbul went back from trailing 30-48 after the 1st half to a 76-64 win over Caja Vitoria. The American Jew, who won 2 NBA championships with the LA Lakers, also added 6 rebounds and 3 assists in his 30 minutes on the field.

Maccabi Tel Aviv’s soccer team also had success today as it went to top the Israeli premier league table after a 3-1 win over Hapoel Ramat Gan. Eliran Atar scored his 8th and 9th goals of the season during the first 4 minutes of the second half and keeps leading the top scorers’ table. Maccabi now has 21 points of 8 games. SC Ashdod, which is having a surprisingly good season so far, went down to the 2nd place with 19 points after 0-0 versus Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

Hapoel Tel Aviv (15 points) will play tomorrow against Maccabi Netanya. Next Saturday Maccabi and Hapoel Tel Aviv will play each other.

Eden Ben Basat scored yesterday his 4th goal of the season (in 7 appearances) for Stade Brest in the win 2-0 against FC Lorient in the French Ligue 1. Goalkeeper Guy Haimov broke the Cypriot first division record for not conceding a goal for the longest time, as he kept his net clean in the 8th straight game since the start of the season. His team, AEK Larnaka, is coached by Ran Ben Shimon, who led Ironi Kiryat Shmona to a sensational Israeli championship last season. The team beat AEP Paphos 3-0 today and has 22 table points.

Netanyahu Tries His Hand (and foot) At Sports (and arts)

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met yesterday with the 38 members of Israel’s Olympic delegation. He present the delegation with this drawing showing a Israeli athlete on the winners podium holding an Israeli flag. His note in Hebrew reads:

To the Israeli Olympic Delegation.
Faster, higher, stronger!
With success,
Benjamin Netanyahu

According to JTA, “Bibi also gave them Olympic medals — made of chocolate.”

Netanyahu is no stranger to sports himself. Just last month, the Prime Minister injured his leg playing a soccer match with Jewish and Arab youths. His leg will be in a cast for several weeks. Now, according to the Jerusalem Post, “the Prime Minister’s office “is debating how to hold a Netanyahu-Romney photo-op without showing the cast on the prime minister’s leg.”