Portsmouth manager Avram Grant has expressed anger at losing four key men to the African Cup of Nations.
He is without Nadir Belhadj, Hassan Yebda, Nwankwo Kanu and Aruna Dindane until as late as the start of February when the tournament is completed. He is relieved that John Utaka and Kevin-Prince Boateng were not called up by Nigeria and Ghana respectively.
Speaking after the Boxing Day 2-0 defeat at fellow strugglers West Ham, he said: “I don’t know why FIFA allows this tournament to go ahead in January. We pay a lot of money to big players who are not here for two months.”
Grant has experience of dealing with problems caused by call-ups to Africa’s premier national team tournament, having lost Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Salomon Kalou and John Obi Mikel in 2008 when he was Chelsea manager.However, Portsmouth may struggle to cope as they have been hit with a transfer embargo by the Premier League.
A seven-goal thriller between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem was undoubtedly the match of the weekend in the Israeli Premier Division.
Despite a brace by Barak Itzhaki and a goal by Toto Tamuz, Tel Aviv held on for the points thanks to goals from Shiran Yeini, Tamir Cahlon, Yossi Shivhon and Emmanuel Mayuka, to ensure they stay in third place.
Elsewhere, Hapoel Tel Aviv continued their excellent season, which includes qualification for the last 32 of the Europa League. A 3-0 success at Hapoel Ramat Gan means they are runaway leaders Maccabi Haifa’s nearest challengers after the Greens defeated city rivals Hapoel Haifa by a single goal.
Of the relegation-threatened teams, Hapoel Petach Tikva remain bottom despite a battling home draw against Ashdod, Ra’anana secured a vital 3-1 win over basement rivals Maccabi Petach Tikva and Bnei Sakhnin were held at home by John Gregory’s Maccabi Ahi Nazareth.
In the final matches, Bnei Yehuda defeated Maccabi Netanya 2-1, leaving Netanya languishing in mid-table and Hapoel Akko lost 3-1 at home to Hapoel Beer-Sheva.