Eran Zahavi scored twice to bring Maccabi Tel Aviv back from two goals down on Sunday night, but the defending champion was held nonetheless to a 2-2 draw by Hapoel Haifa in Netanya.
Maccabi, which was hosting the match in Netanya due to the unruly behavior of its supporters, found itself in a stunning two-goal hole after Zarko Korac doubled the struggling Haifa’s advantage in the 52nd minute.
Amir Nusbaum netted the opener against the run of play in the 15th minute.
Two goals in the space of five minutes by Zahavi (68, 73) leveled the score and both teams had golden opportunities to leave with all three points, with Haifa goalkeeper Tvrtko Kale keeping out Rade Prica’s header with a sensational instinctive save in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
The draw leaves Maccabi just four points ahead of second-place Hapoel Beersheba, with Haifa moving up one place to eighth even though its winless streak reached eight matches.
“I don’t like the result and I don’t like the things that I saw in the first half,” said Maccabi coach Paulo Sousa, who made five changes to the lineup that drew 0-0 with FC Basel in the first leg of the Europa League round-of-32 on Thursday.
“At Maccabi we need to have the capacity to always go above all the difficulties. In the second half we were closer to ourselves and we created enough opportunities to win the match. Unfortunately, we didn’t score and had to settle for a draw.”
Zahavi rued Maccabi’s lackluster play in the first half, but quickly turned his focus to the second leg against Basel in Switzerland on Thursday.
“It is a shame we didn’t have a few more minutes because I felt we could have completed the comeback,” said Zahavi. “We shouldn’t find ourselves in such situations.
We are facing a much more important game on Thursday and that is our focus now.”