|HAPOEL HAIFA’S Ali Khatib 370.(Photo by: Adi Avishai)|
Much at stake with relegation, European bids undecided
By ALLON SINAI
TENSIONS WILL be running as high as ever as Hapoel Beersheba, Maccabi Petah Tikva and Hapoel Haifa enter their final match of the season.
One way or another, the battle against relegation from the Premier League will
be decided on Saturday night, with Maccabi Petah Tikva, Hapoel Beersheba or
Hapoel Haifa to face demotion to the National League when the final whistle to
the season is sounded.
Haifa, on 41 points, only requires a home draw
against rock-bottom Hapoel Petah Tikva to secure its safety thanks to its
superior goal difference, Beersheba, one point further back, must defeat Betar
Jerusalem at Vasermil Stadium to guarantee itself another season of top-flight
A Haifa loss or a Beersheba failure to win will open the door for
in-form Maccabi Petah Tikva.
Petah Tikva seemed to be all but relegated
three weeks ago, but it has claimed three straight victories to close within a
single point of survival.
Another win on Saturday against Hapoel Ramat
Hasharon at the Moshava Stadium could complete the great escape, and despite
needing other results to go its way, Petah Tikva players remain
“No one gave us a chance, but coach Sinai motivated us and we
will continue to fight as long as we have a chance,” said defender Tal Ma’abi.
“Clearly, we will have to beat Ramat Hasharon, but our fate isn’t just in our
hands. However, I believe that if we win things will work out in our
Petah Tikva could even maintain its Premier League status with a
draw should Beersheba lose to Betar.
“You will be the heroes of Beersheba
if you stay in the league,” Beersheba coach Guy Levy told his players on
Thursday, with the southerners only picking up a single point from their last
Pressure is also mounting at Hapoel Haifa, which finds
itself tangled in the fight for survival after winning just one of its past five
Coach Tal Banin stormed out of a team meeting on Thursday after
owner Yoav Katz began to address the squad against the coach’s
“We could have secured our survival long ago, but unfortunately
we missed our chance,” Banin told his players. “However, our fate is still in
Also Saturday, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv will aim to
lock up a Europa League berth before their showdown in the State Cup final on
Haifa hosts Hapoel at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium, with the winner
guaranteed to finish the season in second or third and qualify for
A draw will also be enough for Tel Aviv to finish in
Maccabi Netanya will climb to fourth with a home win against Bnei
Sakhnin and will be crossing its fingers that the cup will be won by a team that
finishes ahead of it as that will hand it a continental berth.
Yehuda, which already qualified for European competition for the fourth
consecutive year with its 4-3 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv on Wednesday, will aim
to clinch second place with a victory at Ashdod SC.
Also Saturday, Kiryat
Shmona welcomes Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Rishon Lezion faces Hapoel
On Friday, the National League season comes to an end, with three
teams tied on 34 points at the top of the standings and only one to gain
promotion to the top flight.
Hapoel Ramat Gan leads the pack with a goal
differential of plus 27, while Maccabi Herzliya is on plus 17 and Bnei Lod on
Further complicating matters is the new regulation implemented
this season regarding ties.
The rule dictates that, should two teams
finish tied on points for first position, a winner-takes-all playoff match will
be held to decide who will play in the Premier League next season.
Gan’s vastly superior goal difference means that a win at Hapoel Ra’anana on
Friday will, at the very least, guarantee it a playoff berth.
which hosts Hapoel Jerusalem, and Lod, which visits Maccabi Ahi Nazareth, will
both be aiming to win by as big a margin as possible as goal difference seems
set to determine the outcome of the photo-finish ending to the National League.