It’s A Green Day
Boston’s not the only town decked out in green today.
After sinking all the way down to the 8th position on the league table in January, Maccabi Haifa has turned around their season in dramatic fashion, with a 4-0-1 record over their past five games, including a 2:0 derby victory over their cross-town rivals HaPoel Haifa on Monday that clinched their spot in the top six entering the playoff round for the championship. With a suddenly-inspired defense and the creativity of Yossi Benayoun and Itay Schechter on offense, the greens are playing their best football of the season at precisely the right time. Their 1:0 win on March 8 against Kiryat Shmonah, with Benayoun’s 88th minute goal giving Maccabi the victory, was a dramatic a win as you will see this season.
Unlike in the European leagues, where every team plays each other twice and the teams’ final position after those matches determine the champion, in Israel they spend 26 weeks playing each team twice, and then the top six teams duke it out for the league championship over the final 10 weeks. Maccabi Haifa enters the playoff round along with Maccabi Tel Aviv (1st position), HaPoel Be’er Sheva (2nd), HaPoel Kiryat Shmonah (3rd), Beitar Jerusalem (4th), and Maccabi Petach Tikvah (5th). It should be a thrilling playoff competition, and Maccabi kicks off the playoff with a showdown at first-place Maccabi Tel Aviv on Sunday.
Righting The Euroleague Ship
On the Euroleague basketball front, Maccabi Tel Aviv raced out to a 6-2 record over the first 8 games of the playoffs, but has fallen on harder times as of late, losing in Belgrade and in Barcelona on the last two matchdays. While they remain in third place in group E, they will need at least 2, if not 3 wins from their last 4 games to clinch a berth in the final eight. Maccabi takes the court on Thursday at home against Lithuanian side Zalgiris Kaunus in an attempt to end their losing streak. Back on January 23, they beat Kaunus in Lithuania, 73-66, so here’s hoping they can repeat that effort back at Menora Arena.
Running the Euro2016 Gauntlet
The Euro2016 winter break is over, and matchday 4 is coming up quickly. Israel sits alone in 1st place in qualifying group B, with a perfect 3-0-0 record and seven games remaining in the qualifying round. But the easy games are officially over… on Saturday evening, March 28, they will welcome Real Madrid striker Gareth Bale and his Welsh compatriots to the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, and on Tuesday the 31st they will host a slew of all-world players from Belgium at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.
After dispatching Andorra, Cyprus, and Bosnia and Herzegovina over the first three matches, the arrival of Belgium and Wales will be a real litmus test for the national team. With a long history of folding on the big stage, these two games over three days have the potential to either confirm Israel’s identity as a legitimate contender to make the final, or to be another in a long list of almost-but-not-quite attempts at qualification.