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Relegation race still hot-and-heavy
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April 26, 2013 00:09
The teams fighting against relegation have got just two more matches remaining to secure their survival.
Yossi Shivhon of Maccabi Netanya

Maccabi Netanya 370. (photo credit:Asaf Kliger)

With the Premier League title-race already decided, the battle against relegation and the fight for European qualification take center stage starting Saturday.

Maccabi Tel Aviv officially clinched its first championship since 2003 with a 2-0 victory over Hapoel Ramat Hasharon on Monday.



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Maccabi Haifa is all but guaranteed to end the season in second place, holding an eight-point gap over Hapoel Tel Aviv in third.

Hapoel seemed to be cruising towards qualification for the Europa League from third position before picking up just a single point over its past three matches.

The Reds were humbled 4-1 at home by Ironi Kiryat Shmona last week, bringing the northerners within two points of Hapoel.

Kiryat Shmona can also secure a place in continental competition by winning the State Cup final against Hapoel Ramat Gan on May 8, which will also mean that the team to finish in fourth will play in the Europa League in 2013/14 should last season’s champion end its campaign in third.

Regardless, Kiryat Shmona will be aiming to climb up to third and will be focused on claiming its third straight win when it hosts Bnei Yehuda on Saturday.

Hapoel Tel Aviv welcomes Ramat Hasharon on Sunday, while Maccabi Tel Aviv’s first match since being crowned champion will be against Maccabi Haifa at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Monday.

While there are still four more games to be played in the championship playoffs, the teams fighting against relegation have got just two more matches remaining to secure their survival.

Just five points separate the bottom five teams, but last-placed Hapoel Ramat Gan could already find itself relegated on Saturday.

A defeat at Hapoel Acre (33 points) will see Ramat Gan (30) demoted to the National League, with a draw also unlikely to be enough for Ramat Gan to maintain its top-flight status.

“We are in a very tough situation,” said Ramat Gan coach Eli Cohen after his team dropped to a 1-0 defeat at Bnei Sakhnin on Tuesday in a match postponed from Saturday due to a waterlogged pitch.

“We will have to win our next two matches and pray for miracles.”

Maccabi Netanya (32) resurrected its hopes of survival with its first win in 10 matches last week, defeating Ashdod SC 2-1.

Netanya visits Beitar Jerusalem (38) on Saturday, hoping to make the most of the hosts’ indifference towards the match.

Hapoel Beersheba (35) and Bnei Sakhnin (35) could all but guarantee another year in the Premier League with victories on Saturday. Beersheba welcomes Hapoel Haifa (38), while Sakhnin visits Ashdod (39).
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