Player-of-the-season Eran Zahavi ended the 2013/14 campaign in style on Saturday night, scoring a hat-trick to secure champion Maccabi Tel Aviv a 4-1 victory over Bnei Sakhnin at Bloomfield Stadium and take his tally for the season to a league-high 29 goals.
Yoav Ziv gave Maccabi a third-minute lead before Zahavi took control, scoring three times (20, 27, 87) before missing a golden opportunity from 10 meters out which could have equaled the all-time record for goals in a season. He may not have managed to draw level with Nissim Elmalich’s record set in the 1954/55 campaign, but Zahavi’s 29 goals are the most by any player in 59 years and rank him second only to Elmalich.
Mohamed Kalibat netted Sakhnin’s consolation goal in the 31st minute.
Despite the swirling speculation of his imminent departure, Maccabi coach Paulo Sousa insisted he will be back to coach the team next season.
“I will be back here on June 10,” he said. “As things currently stand, I am staying at Maccabi. We had a fantastic and wonderful season. We reached the pinnacle. All the team worked for Zahavi and what he achieved is wonderful.”
Omer Damari entered the final weekend of action tied on 26 goals with Zahavi, but he failed to add to his tally despite Hapoel Tel Aviv’s 4-2 victory over Ironi Kiryat Shmona in Netanya on Saturday.
Sasha (7), Gili Vermut (24, 50) and Uri Cohen (42) clinched Hapoel’s win with almost half a match to play, with Roei Kehat (52) and Rodgers Kola (91) scoring for Kiryat Shmona.
Vermut played one of his best matches of the season for Hapoel, just two days after revealing that he had been asked to leave the club as his contract is a financial burden on the cash-stricken Reds.
“In the past couple of months I have been directly approached by the heads of the club and was told that in the current financial situation it would be advisable for me to find a different club to play for,” Vermut wrote on his Facebook page before showing the club what it will miss should he be sold in the summer.
The only possible change in the standings on Saturday could have been in second and third place, although that too had little significance as both the teams in second and third qualify for the Europa League next season.
Kiryat Shmona had to beat Hapoel and for Hapoel Beersheba to lose to Maccabi Haifa at home in order to leapfrog into second place. However, Beersheba picked up the point it required to clinch the runners-up position regardless of the result in Netanya, drawing 1-1 with Haifa at Vasermil Stadium.
Glynor Plet handed Beersheba the lead in the 36th minute, with Ruben Rayos equalizing for Haifa eight minutes.