Maccabi Haifa midfielder Idan Vered (center) celebrates after scoring his team’s second goal over Hapoel Haifa at Sammy Ofer Stadium.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Beitar Jerusalem, Maccabi Petah Tikva and Maccabi Haifa all won to secure their places in the Premier League championship playoffs on Saturday, while Ironi Kiryat Shmona’s title challenge continued to unravel.
The league will be split in two following Monday’s match between league-leader Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Petah Tikva, with the top six to face each other twice more for the title, while the bottom eight sides will play one another once more to decide the battle against relegation.
Beitar (40 points) beat Hapoel Ra’anana 2-0 in Netanya for its third straight win thanks to goals from Claudemir (20) and Lidor Cohen (85).
Ra’anana could have advanced to the championship playoffs with a two-goal victory, but lost its second straight game to drop out of contention.
“This is a superb win and reaching the championship playoffs is a great achievement,” said Beitar coach Guy Levy, who has led the team to five wins from seven matches since taking charge. “I think the club has tonight taken the first step towards returning to prominence in Israeli soccer.”
Petah Tikva (39 points) defeated Hapoel Tel Aviv 2-1, with Guy Melamed (83) and Giddy Kaniuk (90) scoring for the hosts.
Lucas Sasha netted Hapoel’s consolation goal from the penalty spot with the last kick of the match, with the Reds ending the night with 10 men following Sari Falah’s sending off in the 89th minute.
“We played our best game of the season at the most important time,” said Petah Tikva coach Ran Ben-Shimon.
Maccabi Haifa (37 points) secured its qualification with a fourth win from five games, beating Hapoel Haifa 2-0 in the derby at Sammy Ofer Stadium.
Taleb Tawatha (45) and Idan Vered (90) scored for the in-form Greens.
“Our goal now is to finish in fourth place and hopefully that we lead to European qualification,” said Maccabi Haifa coach Marco Balbul.
Kiryat Shmona’s slump continued with a humbling 2-0 defeat at rock-bottom Hapoel Acre. Kiryat Shmona suffered its third consecutive defeat after losing just two of its first 23 games of the campaign. The northerners remained four points behind league-leader Maccabi Tel Aviv, which doesn’t host Hapoel Petah Tikva until Monday night.
“When you lose three straight games clearly there is something wrong,” said Kiryat Shmona coach Barak Bachar. “This is an unpleasant situation, but we need to find a way to lift ourselves.”
Hapoel Beersheba can leapfrog Kiryat Shmona into second place and close within two points of the yellow-and-blue with a win over Bnei Sakhnin on Sunday.
Yiannis Papadopoulos (52) and Ahmed Kasoum (68) scored for Acre on Saturday, giving Shlomi Dora’s team its second win in three matches after it had gone 12 games without a victory.
Acre, which had seemed doomed to be demoted for much of the season, closed within four points of Hapoel Haifa and safety.
Maccabi Netanya lost all hope of reaching the championship playoffs last week, but at least it will enter the relegation playoffs with a comfortable 10-point cushion on the bottom two after beating Ashdod SC 3-2 on Saturday courtesy of Iyad Abu Abid’s 89th-minute back-heel winner.
Diya Saba gave Netanya the lead after 10 minutes, but goals from Tom Mond (40) and Gadi Kinda (49) completed the comeback for the hosts.
However, Ashdod couldn’t hold on, with Ori Shitrit (62) leveling the score before Abu Abid handed Netanya all three points in dramatic fashion.