Some of the best derbies in the world include the El Clasico, Liverpool vs. Everton, Milan vs. Inter, and the list could go on.
However, on Saturday, a unique derby of great significance was played in the Israeli Premier League. The two teams were Bnei Sakhnin, home side which is made up of Israeli Arabs, and Beitar Jerusalem (an ultra-Zionist side). You would never hear about this in the news but to a few people who understand the universal animosity involved between the two general populations, one could feel the tension build up prior to the game.
Few of the elements that were expected from this game include – aggressiveness, immense display of physicality throughout the game, couple of red cards, a vivid display of two different national flags varying in sizes in a league game and the ultras of both set of supporters go at each other – from the occasional flares being thrown at each other to racist abuse to assault that would take place pre & post game.
Fortunately, none of the latter took place, or that we know of had taken place.
The home side came close to scoring in the 10th minute with an average header by Ahmed Kasum, which was merely kept out by the acrobatic Beitar GK Ariel Haroush. A few minutes later Sakhnin’s Nigerian forward Yero Bello was able to take advantage of the ground and weather conditions to get past the rushing Haroush to give them the lead. The crowd went mental, and why wouldn’t they.
Both teams missed opportunities one after the other – opportunities that one would expect a paid footballer to convert on a normal day. But we will blame the ground conditions for that. It only took Beitar a few minutes from when the second half whistle was blown to equalize. A continued run by Avi Rikan through the defense, and the ball unexpectedly falling to his feet allowed the midfielder to slot in the ball past the keeper.
The final entertaining aspect of the game included the couple of red cards brandished by the referee. Sakhnin’s goal scorer was given his marching order for dissent while his colleague Haled Halaula was harshly dismissed after collecting his second yellow in added time.
In the end, one positive outlook of the derby was the fact that the players and the coach’s had acknowledged the performances of each other after the game. An action one would normally not see in this derby. Will we see a day that the fans do the same? Not so in the near future.