Yet another Eran Zahavi winner gave Maccabi Tel Aviv a 1-0 victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium on Monday night, extending the yellow-and- blue’s lead at the top of the Premier League standings to four points and retaining its stranglehold on the local derby.
Monday’s showdown was far from a classic, but Zahavi’s composed penalty in the 29th minute ensured Maccabi beat Hapoel for a fourth straight time and claimed its 10th win in 13 games so far this season to increase the margin from second-place Hapoel Beersheba. Hapoel’s defeat also effectively ended any lingering hope it had of winning the championship, with the reds remaining in fifth place, 13 points behind Maccabi.
Hapoel was forced to use two of its three substitutions by the 15th minute, with both Itay Shechter and Bryan Gerzicich limping off.
Nevertheless, Maccabi struggled to get going and Hapoel was the more dangerous team, with Omer Damari’s header after 24 minutes only being saved by a superb instinctive lunge from goalkeeper Juan Pablo.
However, it would be Maccabi which moved in front after 29 minutes thanks to some help from referee Liran Liani.
The referee gifted Tel Aviv a penalty after wrongly adjudging that Shay Abutbul’s foul on Barak Itzhaki was committed inside the box and Zahavi stepped up to coolly slot the hosts into the lead.
Maccabi also entered the second half with just one remaining substitution after Omri Ben-Harush was replaced by Dor Micha for tactical reasons and Munas Dabbur had to be taken off on a stretcher.
However, the yellow-and-blue would maintain the initiative and twice came within centimeters of doubling the advantage, with Tal Ben-Haim (53) and Barak Itzhaki (67) both having their efforts denied by the woodwork.
Maccabi’s failure to finish off the encounter resulted in a nervy finish, but Hapoel couldn’t find an equalizer and the yellow-and-blue fans celebrated yet another derby triumph at the final whistle.
Also Monday, Maccabi Haifa saw its four-game winning streak snapped with a 1-1 draw against Hapoel Ramat Hasharon at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
Ben Reichert handed Ramat Hasharon a surprise lead in the 45th minute and the visitors extended their unbeaten streak to six games despite Shoval Gozlan’s equalizer in the 64th minute.
On Tuesday, Bnei Sakhnin hosts Beitar Jerusalem and Bnei Yehuda visits Ironi Kiryat Shmona in matches postponed from Saturday due to the stormy weather.
Earlier Monday, Maccabi Tel Aviv was drawn to face FC Basel once more this season, this time in the Europa League round of 32.
The Swiss club defeated Maccabi 4-3 on aggregate in the Champions League third qualifying round four months ago, beating the yellow-and-blue 1-0 in the first leg in Basel before drawing 3-3 in Tel Aviv, squandering a three-goal lead.
Basel beat English Premier League powerhouse Chelsea both home and away in the Champions League group stage, but picked up just two more points in its four matches versus Schalke 04 and Steaua Bucharest and was sent to the Europa League after finishing Group E in third place.
The first leg will take place at Bloomfield on February 20, with Basel to host the return leg the following week.
“Our opponents had an excellent run in the Champions League, but on the other hand there is always the January transfer window and so it is possible that there might be some changes as they might sell their best players or change coaches,” said Maccabi sports director Jordi Cruyff.
Maccabi became the fourth Israeli team to reach the knockout rounds of the Europa League or UEFA Cup after ending Group F in second place with 11 points, joining the Hapoel Tel Aviv teams of 2006/07 and 2009/10 and Maccabi Haifa in 2006/07.
The draw for the Europa League round of 16 was also held in Nyon, Switzerland on Monday, with Maccabi or Basel to meet the winner of the tie between Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam and Red Bull Salzburg of Austria.