A remarkable bicycle-kick goal by Barak Itzhaki secured Maccabi Tel Aviv a 3-1 victory over Maccabi Haifa at Bloomfield Stadium on Monday night, extending the defending-champion’s lead at the top of the Premier League standings to six points.
After an evenly-balanced first half ended in a goalless deadlock, the match turned on its head when Haifa defender Sari Falah was sent off just 15 seconds into the second half following two reckless handball offences either side of the break.
The hosts took advantage immediately, with goals from Rade Prica (49) and Shiran Yeini (56) opening a promising cushion before Alon Turgeman (64) brought Haifa back into the game.
However, Monday’s match will be remembered by only one thing, Itzhaki’s goal.
The striker released an unstoppable bicycle-kick from just inside the area in the 70th minute to ensure the yellowand- blue won its seventh straight league encounter and recorded its 13th win in 16 matches so far this season.
“I saw the ball coming my way and I just decided to give it a go,” said Itzhaki. “This is not something you plan, but I told Eran Zahavi yesterday that I will score a bicycle kick tonight.
“We don’t think the championship is in our pocket just yet,” he added. “We won’t letup and will continue to put on a show for our fans.”
While it was expected that the hosts would send plenty of players forward to start the match in the hope of making the breakthrough, it was a pleasant surprise to see Haifa undeterred to put the yellowand- blue under some sort of pressure.
The visitors came centimeters away from being rewarded for their commitment to attacking soccer in the 10th minute, with Hen Ezra’s shot from 20 meters out smashing against the crossbar and almost going in off goalkeeper Juan Pablo’s back, only for the Spaniard to collect the ball at the last moment.
Despite entering the match 14 points behind Tel Aviv, Haifa gave the yellowand- blue a real run for its money in the first half and probably even felt slightly unfortunate that the score was still tied at 0-0 at the break.
The second half would be a completely different story following Falah’s sending off.
The Greens were always going to struggle with 10 men and Tel Aviv pounced on the prey. Less than three minutes later, Maharan Radi’s corner was headed in by Prica and the hosts doubled their advantage in the 56th minute when Haifa once more failed to clear a corner kick, allowing Yeini to score his first goal in a year.
Turgeman handed Haifa a lifeline with his 64th-minute goal, but the only thing anyone wanted to talk about after the match was Itzhaki’s sensational strike which secured three more points for Maccabi and sent the yellow-and-blue fans home with a broad smile after another memorable night at Bloomfield.
“The match was very balanced until halftime,” admitted Tel Aviv coach Paulo Sousa. “The sending off gave us a better possibility to take a stranglehold on the game and we pushed and got important goals. Itzhaki’s goal was amazing.”