Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Eran Zahavi (left) and Tal Ben-Haim (right) both scored in the team’s 3-1 victory over Maccabi Haifa at Bloomfield Stadium..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv put Maccabi Haifa in its place on Monday night, claiming a 3-1 victory at Bloomfield Stadium to reassert its position as the dominant force in Israeli soccer.
Haifa was hoping to prove that it is ready to challenge the two-time defending champion for the Premier League title, but despite a promising start dropped to its second defeat in four league matches after failing to overcome the yellow-and-blue for a seventh straight time.
The turning point in the match arrived in the 23rd minute when Haifa defender Eyal Meshumar was sent off, with the Greens ending the night with nine men following Edin Cocalic’s red card in the 81st minute.
Haifa also gifted Tel Aviv an own-goal courtesy of Taleb Tawatha (53), but still managed to level the score six minutes later through Ruben Rayos’s penalty.
However, the visitors never seemed capable of holding on, with Eran Zahavi putting the hosts back in front in the 69th minute, extending his scoring streak to nine consecutive matches stretching back to last season, before Eden Ben-Basat capped the scoring nine minutes from time.
The hosts, who rebounded from their first defeat of the season at Hapoel Beersheba, looked to dictate the pace from the start, but it was Haifa which reached the better chances at the beginning of the match, penetrating Tel Aviv’s surprisingly vulnerable defense time and again.
The Greens should have taken the lead after eight minutes, but Rayos inexplicably ballooned his shot from five meters out with only ‘keeper Juan Pablo to beat.
With captain Yossi Benayoun out through injury, Rayos had an even greater responsibility than usual, but his wastefulness in front of goal would soon become one of the themes of the night.
He wasn’t the only Haifa player who squandered chances in the first half, with Weeam Amasha hitting the post with his header in the 10th minute and Alon Turgeman sending his header just wide four minutes later.
It looked to be only a matter of time until the hosts would concede, but the match turned on its head in the 23rd minute. Haifa’s Meshumar bundled over Tel Aviv’s Ben-Haim on the edge of the area and was shown a straight red card for denying him a clear shot at goal.
Haifa held on until the break, but eight minutes into the second half the yellowand- blue finally made the breakthrough.
Ben-Haim’s shot was rolling wide but a sliding Tawatha tucked it into his own net to hand the hosts the lead.
Despite being down to 10 men, Haifa continued to create chances and Tel Aviv’s lead lasted just six minutes, with Rayos making up for his earlier misses with an accurate penalty.
The yellow-and-blue immediately pilled the pressure on the Greens and the Haifa defense eventually collapsed in the 69th minute.
Zahavi scored with a header and expensive summer recruit Ben-Basat, who came off the bench, finally netted his first goal for the club in the 81st minute with a superb free kick from 20 meters out after Haifa was left with nine men following Cocalic’s sending off for a second yellow card.
In other local soccer news, the Israel Football Association announced on Monday that Bnei Sakhnin will face the disciplinary court after paying tribute to fugitive former Balad MK Azmi Bishara ahead of Saturday’s match against Hapoel Tel Aviv. Sakhnin will face charges of misconduct and mixing politics and sport on Wednesday.