It is safe to say that the Israeli Premier League has never seen anything like
Six teams will enter their final match of the season on Saturday in
danger of being demoted to the National League, with all six having their fate
in their own hands.
Only one of the six will be relegated, but that will
do nothing to calm the nerves of Hapoel Haifa (38 points, 9 wins, 35-44 goal
difference), Beitar Jerusalem (38, 9, 44-54), Hapoel Beersheba (38, 9, 29-39),
Hapoel Acre (36, 8, 38-47), Bnei Sakhnin (36, 8, 31-49) and Maccabi Netanya (35,
In an attempt to simplify matters, here are the basic
Overall goal difference will act as the first tiebreaker should
two teams or more end the season with an identical point total, with the second
tiebreaker being the number of wins recorded in the season.
It is quite
possible that the fight for survival will end up being decided by the third
tiebreaker, which is the total number of goals scored by each team throughout
Saturday’s matches will see Sakhnin host Beitar, Acre welcome
Haifa and Netanya face Beersheba.
What makes this battle against
relegation so unique is not only the fact that every team knows that a win on
Saturday will secure its safety regardless of other results, but that several of
local soccer’s biggest clubs find themselves involved in the
Beitar, Haifa, Netanya and Beersheba are all former champions,
with Beitar leading the pack with six titles, the last of which came just five
It has been a while since Haifa, Netanya and Beersheba enjoyed
their heyday, with all three experiencing a drop to the National League over the
Haifa and Beersheba, as well as Acre, only returned to the
top flight in 2009 when the league expanded to 16 teams, with Netanya playing
consecutively in the Premier League for the past eight years and Sakhnin for the
Beitar, on the other hand, has been in the top division since
1992, and is still trying to come to terms with finding itself in peril with
just one set of fixtures remaining in the season.
There are essentially
an infinite amount of scenarios for Saturday, with the six sides facing each
Should Acre beat Haifa, Netanya defeat Beersheba and Sakhnin get
the better of Beitar, there will be a four-way tie for 13th place, which will
lead to the second division at around 9 p.m. on Saturday night.
superior goal difference means it can afford to lose by two goals and still be
certain of its safety, while a defeat by a single goal will be enough for Beitar
regardless of other results.
However, it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario
in which Beitar loses 2-0 to Sakhnin and both Acre and Netanya claim home wins
to leapfrog Jerusalem and sensationally send the team from the capital to the
Excluding the incalculable goal-difference scenario,
there are 26 other ways in which Saturday’s matches can unfold.
go into each and every one of them, but in 13 of them Netanya will be demoted,
in eight Sakhnin and in five Acre, with Haifa, Beitar and Beersheba only in
danger of suffering the drop on goal difference.
However, while that
seems to indicate that Beersheba is all but safe, its inferior goal difference
means that a defeat by any score-line at Netanya combined with wins for Acre and
Sakhnin could see the southerners lose their top-flight status.
clearly enters the weekend in the toughest situation, but even Reuven Atar’s
side knows that it only requires a 1-0 victory over Beersheba to remain in the
Premier League regardless of other outcomes.
However, Netanya is also the
only team which will definitely go down should it lose.
The other five
can afford to suffer defeat and still remain afloat should other results work in
their favor, with a draw possibly enough for all six, including Netanya, but
once again, only if other scores go their way.
It is all quite confusing,
But after more than eight months and 32 matches for each team,
this is what the season has come down to.
Trying to forecast what might
happen on Saturday seems all but impossible.
But of one thing we can be
certain; there will be plenty more twists to end a roller coaster campaign that
has been unpredictable from its first weekend in August and remains just as
difficult to call with 90 minutes left to play.
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