Eran Zahavi’s 86th-minute equalizer snatched champion Maccabi Tel Aviv a 2-2 draw against Maccabi Haifa in the final match to be played at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Wednesday night, ironically handing arch-rival Hapoel Tel Aviv a Europa League berth.
Haifa required a win on Wednesday to keep alive its chances of leapfrogging Hapoel Tel Aviv and securing a place in continental competition next season by finishing in fourth place.
However, Zahavi twice canceled out Haifa leads, scoring in the 24th minute, three minutes after Ruben Rayos’s opener, and again four minutes from time thanks to a howler by goalkeeper Bojan Saranov. Rayos had given the Greens a 2-1 advantage in the 41st minute.
Zahavi took his tally for the season to 26 goals, moving him level with Hapoel Tel Aviv’s Omer Damari ahead of the final weekend of the season.
Haifa closed to within three points of Hapoel, but has no chance of overhauling the Reds due to its significantly inferior goal difference.
Haifa held a ceremony ahead of the kickoff to mark its final match at Kiryat Eliezer after 59 years of action ahead of the move next season to the new Sammy Ofer Stadium.
The players that led Haifa to its first league championship 30 years ago, as well as their coach Shlomo Scharf, were all honored and given standing ovations.
Moshe Ran, the father of the late Avi Ran, the team’s goalkeeper who passed away in a boating accident in the Sea of Galilee in 1987, was also called to join the other players on the pitch and was overcome with emotion in what was his first visit to Kiryat Eliezer since his son’s passing.
The battle for the runner-up position, which is entirely for pride as both the second and third place teams qualify for the Europa League, will only be decided on Saturday after Ironi Kiryat Shmona beat Hapoel Beersheba 3-0 on Wednesday.
Goals from Adrian Rochet (25), Yoel Chehanovich (30) and Rodgers Kola (92) moved Kiryat Shmona within three points of Beersheba, with both teams having an identical goal difference (+23).
Beersheba still only requires a point against Haifa on Saturday to wrap up second place, but should the Southerners lose at Vasermil Stadium, Kiryat Shmona will be able to climb into the runners-up position assuming it defeats Hapoel Tel Aviv in Netanya.