Hapoel Tel Aviv is on the verge of qualifying for the Europa League after defeating Bnei Sakhnin 3-1 at Doha Stadium on Tuesday night to strengthen its hold on fourth place.
Hapoel opened a four-point gap over Maccabi Haifa, which hosts champion Maccabi Tel Aviv at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Wednesday. Even should Haifa defeat the yellow-and-blue, Hapoel will be able to secure its place in European competition next season by beating Ironi Kiryat Shmona in their final match of the campaign on Saturday.
Omer Damari netted a brace for Hapoel (20, 60), taking his tally for the season to a league-best 26 goals. Besart Abdurahimi (36) also scored for Tel Aviv, with Mor Shushan (62) netting Sakhnin’s consolation goal.
Wednesday’s match in Haifa will be the hosts last at Kiryat Eliezer ahead of their move to the new Sammy Ofer Stadium at the start of next season. Kiryat Eliezer has been the team’s home since 1955.
Haifa announced on Tuesday that 36-year-old Brazilian midfielder Gustavo Boccoli has signed a one-year contract extension and will remain at the club for an 11th consecutive season.
Also Wednesday, Hapoel Beersheba visits Ironi Kiryat Shmona. Beersheba requires a single point from its remaining two matches to wrap up the runners-up position.
Kiryat Shmona needs to win both its games and for Beersheba to also lose on Saturday to leapfrog into second place.
In other soccer news, Reuven Atar will coach Hapoel Haifa next season after being appointed as Shlomi Dora’s successor on Monday night. Haifa ended the season in 11th place, one point above the relegation zone.
Atar took a season-long sabbatical after experiencing a traumatic 2012/13 campaign.
He began last season as the coach of Maccabi Haifa, finally making a return to his boyhood club, but he was sacked just nine matches into the campaign after a disastrous start in the Premier League.
He returned to coach Maccabi Netanya last March, but failed to save the team from relegation to the National League and ended up leaving the club after just a couple of months.
Despite being a Maccabi Haifa icon, Atar left the club for Hapoel Haifa for a record transfer in 1994 and the Green fans will have to once more get used to their idol being part of their bitter rival following his appointment as the Hapoel coach.
“I’m happy to be back at Hapoel Haifa and coach the team,” Atar said. “This is a big challenge for me.”