Thursday, April 02, 2015

Maccabi Herzliya – Maccabi Ahi Nazareth (20-02-2015)

For business in Israel, I have a hard time finding reliable online information on football games in the country. In the end the English website of the Israel Football Association turned out to be very accurate and pointed me to a game in Herzliya, a relatively small beach town just north of Tel-Aviv.

Maccabi Herzliya plays in the Liga Leumit, the Second Division of Israeli football. They play their games in the Herzliya Municipal Stadium, a multipurpose stadium that holds 8.300. The dark concrete monstrum sits next to a brand new shiny mall.

As Shabbat starts at sundown on Fridays, this game starts at 14:00 on this chilly Friday afternoon. I pay 30 Shekel (ca. $7.50) for a ticket and enter the cold, concrete structure, after some serious security checks. The stadium feels like it’s at least 5-60 years old, but has only been opened in 1983.

There are ca. 115 people in the stadium, mostly working class males. There are few women and those there seem mostly related to the players. There is a small group of some 20 home fans with shawls and two drums who sing intermittently.

Segregated by several (private) security personnel are ca. 30 away supporters. The reason for the tight security and at times tense situation is that Maccabi Ahi Nazareth comes from a mostly Arab Israeli town and the fans are all Arab Israelis. All but one are male, mostly young, and very fanatic. They are at times calmed down by two older men; all away fans seem to know each other.

The pace of the game is slow and most players lack talent. There are few chances. In the 18th minute a good shot of Herzliya from just outside the box goes just wide. Seven minutes later a shot of the home team is stopped by a great tackle; the rebound goes over the goal.

In the 33th minute a free kick is headed in from approximately 8 meter: 1-0 for the home team. Three minutes later a nifty free kick puts a Nazareth striker alone before the Herzliya goalkeeper, but he fails to control the ball. Nothing much happens afterward. Half time score: 1-0.

After a boring half-time, without any entertainment, the second half starts with two very good chances for the visitors. In the 49th minute a Nazareth defender blocks a great opportunity by the home team. The home fans get bored too, and I become quite the attraction among the older fans. A Dutch guy from the US at their little team!

In the 55th minute, out of nowhere, the visitors score a controversial goal. I miss it, but people around me say the guy who scored from close range was offside. Two minutes later a big chance for the home team, but he shoots high over from 5 meters. The counter of the visitors goes nowhere because the striker mistimed his jump for a free header.

After several minutes of chances and half-chances Herzliya finally scores from a really good counter, in which the attackers outnumber the defenders, and the home team finishes solidly from 16 meter: 2-1. The game then gets restless, but slow pace means that not too many chances are created. Little do we know that the last fifteen minutes are going to be crazy. In the 74th minute a Nazareth midfielder has the ball at the box, is not attacked, and his deflected shot puts the goalie on the wrong foot: 2-2. Two minutes later an excellent attack zooms passed the tired and unorganized home team and is well finished: 2-3. Finally, in the 90th minute, a great counter brings more attackers than defenders before the Herzliya goalie and the striker with the orange shoes (who until then mainly annoyed me with his ‘I’m too good to be here’ act) scores in two times: 2-4.

The away fans go crazy and start to taunt the home fans, which leads to a response by the massive security presence – roughly 15 security people for 115 people. I leave the stadium just after they start to chant “allahu Akbar” and God responds with a heavy rain shower. All in all, this second division game was not so much different from my first division game at Hapoel Beer Sheva many years ago.

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