Monday, January 22, 2018

Hapoel Tel Aviv FC – Maccabi Haifa FC (07-01-2018)

I leave Haifa well in time and, despite some detours because of a weird GPS, arrive to the stadium a good fifteen minutes before kick-off. And then… I get stuck in terribly managed traffic. When I finally pass the stadium, roughly at the time of kick-off (20:30), I only have to park my car… which takes me another 10 minutes and leads to a highly illegal move (of which I’m quite proud). I get to the stadium fifteen minutes late, and there are still hundreds of people waiting to get in. Security makes it go slow, but then another entrance opens, and I get in without any security check (!). This is not just remarkable because it is Israel, but also because it is a game between two rival teams and towns.

The HaMoShava Stadium, also known as Petah Tikva Stadium, named after the Tel Aviv suburb it is located in, is home to several teams, including Hapoel Tel Aviv, Hapoel Petah Tikva and Maccabi Petah Tikva – most team in Israel are called either Hapoel or Maccabi, going back to pre-Israeli times; Hapoel is linked to the workers’ movement (Histadrut). HaMoShava Stadium was opened in 2011 and is modern and relatively small (capacity 11,500) with only stands on the two long sides. A friend had bought tickets in advance, for 60 NIS ($17.50), as I was told it could be sold out, but there were probably not more than 8,000 people there, including a big presence from Haifa – Maccabi is having a poor season, so this State Cup game is a welcome distraction and only chance at success.

As I sit down, I see that Haifa are 0-1 up. Their fans are singing and taunting, but are well matched by the home fans. The acoustics of the stadium are impressive, which gives it a much bigger feeling. Most fans are wearing red, and some kind of official Hapoel Tel Aviv gear. The audience is pretty mixed, in terms of Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews as well as religious (Orthodox) and secular – there are not many women (ca. 15%) and only a few Arab Israelis.

The first action I see is a good attack by Hapoel, with a player going around the Maccabi goalie, but rather than passing it to a free teammate, he shoots, and his shot is blocked. In the 20th minute the hosts again have a good chance, but the ball bounces wrong. There are a lot of fouls, which take pace out of the game, and joy out of watching it. Fortunately, the atmosphere remains good.

In the 23rd minute Hapoel has a corner, which leads to a lame volley. Three minutes later, again when I am in the restroom (just like at the Nazareth game), Hapoel scores the equalizer. Because of the many fouls, and poor passing, not too much happens until the last five minutes, in which Hapoel has two decent chances, but nothing comes out of them. Half time score: 1-1.

As soon as the second half starts, two Hapoel players butt heads, and the game is stopped for at least five minutes, as one player has to leave the game. When the game resumes, the football is even more terrible than before. Full of fouls and poor passing.

There are only a handful of could-have-been chances, which tend to end in horrible final passes – final in the sense that they lead to the other team taking over. In the 72nd minute Hapoel has an attack, ball is pulled back, defender misses, but the shot from 16 meter is deflected and goes over the goal. Not much later I leave the game, as I still have to drive to Jerusalem, and don’t want to get stuck in the post-game traffic. I later see that the final score remained 1-1 and Maccabi Haifa won 3-5 after penalties.

Despite the terrible football, I liked the atmosphere. Sure, it is a modern stadium, with little character, but the Hapoel Tel Aviv crowd is diverse and enthusiastic and their constant singing is amplified by the excellent acoustics. Definitely worth a visit for any groundhopper.

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