With Shavuot and Memorial Day on the weekend schedule, and the Red Sox shuffling through an entirely uninspiring season, the sports cupboard in Boston is pretty bare (unless you’re a Revolution fan). Here’s your 500-word digest of the top three stories out of Israeli sports this holiday weekend. Chagim s’mechim!
An Unprecedented Treble
On Wednesday night Maccabi Tel Aviv put the icing on the cake that was their 2015-16 campaign by whitewashing HaPoel Be’er Sheva, 6-2, in the final of the Israeli State Cup at Haifa’s Sami Ofer Stadium. Their dominant performance on the northern coast concluded a year in which they easily won the Ligat Ha’al title and hoisted the Toto Cup in February. Their unprecedented sweep of the major competitions was a first for Israeli soccer and will hopefully give them a shot of confidence as they prepare to tackle the qualification campaign for the UEFA Champions League in mid-summer. 32,000 fans packed Haifa’s new jewel of a stadium to see Swedish striker Rade Prica score a hat trick en route to a victory in the highest-scoring cup final in Israel’s history.
A Two-Horse Race
With Maccabi Tel Aviv having been unceremoniously swept out of the Euroleague playoffs, the eyes of Israeli basketball fans are squarely on the Israeli “Winner” basketball league, which finds itself in the midst of quarterfinal playoff action. Favorites Maccabi Tel Aviv and HaPoel Jerusalem both hold 2-0 series leads against Nes Ziona and HaPoel Tel Aviv, respectively, while Maccabi Haifa and HaPoel Eilat have split their first two games and Maccabi Rishon LeTzion also holds a 2-0 lead over HaPoel Holon. If the results hold, Maccabi Tel Aviv will face Rishon LeTzion in the semifinals, with the Jerusalemites taking on the winner of the other series. Maccabi Tel Aviv’s regular season record of 27-6 and HaPoel Jerusalem’s record of 25-6 led the league by 10 and 8 games, respectively, so odds are we’ll see one of those two teams standing tall at the end of the playoffs.
Political tensions between Israel and Palestine, usually reserved for the
esteemed body sideshow that is the United Nations, have migrated to an organization perhaps more corrupt than the UN— FIFA. FIFA, whose opaque process of awarding the World Cup to stand-up human rights bastions of Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022; FIFA, who still makes Israel qualify for the World Cup through the European group instead of Asia due to the protestations of Arab nations; FIFA, whose corruption scandals would take 10,000 words to describe in an executive summary. Yes, that FIFA. The Palestinian Football Association is preparing to ask FIFA to suspend Israel from international football competitions, and despite the ridiculous support that the idea got from Haaretz in this piece, even FIFA’s emperor, Sepp Blatter, seems to be quashing the idea. Blatter’s proposal of an Israel-Palestine “peace match” was unsurprisingly rejected by the Palestinian FA -not the first time that idea was blown off- so for now we’ll have to adopt a wait-and-see approach. Given Israel’s track record in international forums, though, I’m a little nervous.