Not There Yet
After a perfect 3-0-0 start to Euro 2016 qualifying, Israel entered a critical stretch in their group stage as they hosted Wales and Belgium on March 28 and 31. Brimming with confidence, but saddled with a tradition of folding in big matches, the national team took the field at Haifa’s Sammy Ofer Stadium on March 28… and were thoroughly outclassed by Wales, losing 3-0, with Real Madrid striker Gareth Bale netting a brace for the visitors. Three nights later, at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, Israel put up a tough battle against the #4 team in the world, but came up short, losing 1-0. Israel now sits in third place in Group B, with an away match against Bosnia and Herzegovina on the calendar for June 12. A top-two finish in the group would place them into the final competition, whereas a third place finish would most likely put them in a home-and-away fixture against a third place team from another qualifying group, with the winner advancing to the final. Israel currently is ranked #26 in the world by FIFA, just ahead of Greece and just behind Tunisia… and the US National Team sits at #32. Anyone up for a US-Israel friendly? Given the Bibi-Barack feud, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Win Or (Probably) Go Home
Maccabi Tel Aviv (BC) has fought tooth and nail for every Euroleague Basketball round of 16 victory, and sit in third place in their group with an 8-5 record and one game left to play. With an away victory against ALBA Berlin on Thursday, they will book their ticket into the quarterfinals, but a loss would end their season if coupled with a Panathanaikos win against Belgrade. Both games are on Thursday, so we’ll know by the weekend if Maccabi will keep playing, but if history is any guide then Maccabi will leave Germany with a victory; they haven’t lost in Berlin since 1997. A third place finish would most likely match them up against Fenerbache Istanbul, while a fourth place finish would put them against CSKA Moscow, in a best-of-five series.
Heating Up At The Top
With HaPoel Kiryat Shmonah’s continued run of poor form, Maccabi Tel Aviv (FC) now sits 10 points above the northerners atop the Ligat Ha’al playoff bracket. At the same time, Hapoel Be’er Sheva has narrowed the gap to 5 points between them and the defending champions, with the two teams facing off in a critical match later today in Tel Aviv. A win would put Tel Aviv 8 points up, which might be too much to overcome, but a Be’er Sheva win would put them 2 points back with plenty of soccer left to play. In other playoff bracket news Maccabi Haifa narrowly defeated Betar Jerusalem behind a Yossi Benayoun goal over the weekend, but is still looking at Europa League qualification as a best-case scenario if they can scrape together a few consecutive wins. In relegation news, Hapoel Petach Tikvah and Hapoel Acco are still in the bottom two spots, so if things hold they’ll be sent down to the Liga Leumit in the coming season, and currently Bnei Yehuda and Hapoel Bnei Lod are in the promotion zone to come up to Ligat Ha’al next year.