The sports scene right now is pretty bleak. With the Olympics over, the Patriots still licking their wounds, the Celtics in tank mode, the Bruins on an extended Olympic break, and the Red Sox going through spring drills, it’s time for
some good old Israel-related soccer news.
Israeli footballers in Europe
England– After several months of waiting, and rumors of a return to La Liga, Yossi Benayoun found a place with English side Queens Park Rangers– probably his last chance for Yossi to be playing in England. While QPR isn’t in the Premier League this year, they are sitting in fourth place in the Championship, so there’s a chance of promotion for next year should they keep getting points.
Scotland– Nir Biton continues his successful first year in Scotland with Celtic. Despite being red-carded in a fall Champions League game against Ajax, he has appeared in 17 games in all competitions. This article from yesterday in the UK is quite flattering of his adjustment to the play, and weather, in Scotland. Biton plies his trade alongside fellow Israeli Beram Kayal, who has been at Celtic since 2010 and is working his way back into playing shape after breaking his foot in November.
France– Eden Ben Basat is a regular for Toulouse in Ligue 1, who are planted in 10th place but do have a lovely purple-and-white home kit. Itay Schechter was just loaned to 14th-place FC Nantes from HaPoel Tel Aviv, and Maor Melikson has scored 2 goals in 26 games for Valenciennes after moving over from Wisla Krakow last winter. Too bad they are in 18th place and in danger of being relegated.
Greece– Bibras Natkho just completed a move from Rubin Kazan in Russia to PAOK in the Greek Superleague. Natkho appeared in 104 games for Rubin Kazan since since 2010 before leaving on a free transfer during the January transfer window. Since his move to Greece, he has notched one goal and two assists in his first five games. Read his biography on the PAOK website- it’s pretty cool.
Spain– Tomer Hemed of Mallorca is just now coming back into action after a long rehab from an Achilles injury. Hemed had a phenomenal first two seasons in Spain, netting 19 goals in 66 games, and was catching the eye of some larger European clubs (like Liverpool and Everton), so here’s hoping he regains his form and makes a move over the summer.
Europa League: Maccabi Tel Aviv Fights On
In the Europa League the Round of 32 finishes up this week. Maccabi Tel Aviv is playing spring soccer in Europe for the first time ever, and after scuffling through a 0-0 draw with FC Basel last week at home, they will look to win outright in Switzerland this Thursday, or get a precious away goal in a draw to advance. These two teams squared off in late summer in a play-off for a Champions League spot and Basel edged out Maccabi… now they’re at it again looking to continue a march towards the final in Turin.
Israel Premier League
In the Israeli Premier League it looks like a two-horse race towards the championship, with Maccabi Tel Aviv holding on to a four-point advantage over HaPoel Be’er Sheva. My beloved Maccabi Haifa has played better of late after a very average half-season to begin the year, but find themselves 18 points out of the top spot in fourth place. Omer Damari of HaPoel Tel Aviv leads the league with 17 goals, while Eran Zahavi of Maccabi Tel Aviv sits behind him with 14.
Israel dodged some bullets in the draw for the Euro 2016 tourney, being placed in Group B with Belgium, Wales, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Andorra, and Cyprus. Noticeably absent from the group would be any major powerhouse like Italy, Spain, France, or Germany. Belgium is the clear favorite to win the group, so Israel will be hunting a 2nd-place finish and qualification for the tournament, which will be hosted by France. Wales will field a squad led by all-world forward Gareth Bale from Real Madrid, so it won’t be easy.
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