Maccabi Tel Aviv completes unbeaten regular season

Hadera sneaks into Championship Playoffs. Mac Haifa secures 2nd place. Beitar in relegation battle.

By JOSHUA HALICKMAN
March 12, 2019 20:08
4 minute read.
Maccabi Tel Aviv completes unbeaten regular season

MACCABI TEL AVIV players celebrate after an 81st-minute goal by Avi Rikan (right), a tally which helped the yellow-and-blue complete a comeback from a 1-0 deficit and defeat Bnei Yehuda 2-1 on Monday night to close out the Premier League regular season. . (photo credit: DANNY MARON)

 
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Maccabi Tel Aviv needed a late-game comeback to defeat Bnei Yehuda 2-1 on Monday night to close out the Israel Premier League regular season. Second-half goals by Eliran Atar and Avi Rikan ensured that the yellow-and-blue would finish the regular season undefeated going unbeaten in 26 matches with a record of 20 wins and six draws.

Bnei Yehuda took a 1-0 lead after Tambi Sagas scored off a missed Shay Konstantini penalty to go into the break ahead by a goal.

However, Atar drew Maccabi even on a magnificent free kick and then the striker collected the assist on Avi Rikan’s 81st-minute marker in the box to complete the comeback and take the win and three points.

Meanwhile, Hapoel Hadera punched its ticket to the Championship Playoffs after drawing with Maccabi Netanya 2-2.

A late Guy Melamed brace for Netanya threatened to send host Hadera to the relegation playoffs, but the point coupled with a Hapoel Haifa draw against Hapoel Ra’anana gave Niso Avitan’s team a well-deserved opportunity to battle for a place in Europe.

Hadera has surprised many by consistently being in the upper half of the table throughout the campaign and the players were rewarded for their hard work with a chance to play against the likes of Hapoel Beersheba, Bnei Yehuda and Maccabi Haifa for a continental position.

Vitali Ganon opened the scoring for Hadera in the 12th minute thanks to an assist by Eylon Almog, and the lead was doubled 20 minutes later as Almog again played facilitator for Eliel Peretz.

However, Netanya pulled back a goal via a header by Guy Melamed in the 72nd minute as things took a turn for the worse when Hadera’s Diya Lababidi was booked with his second yellow card and was sent off with a red.

Melamed took advantage of the extra man and found the equalizer in the 88th minute making for a dramatic finish, but that didn’t stop the Hadera faithful, players and management celebrated their shocking accomplishment.

An exuberant Avitan couldn’t contain his excitement following the game.

“This is the biggest moment of my career and this is an amazing accomplishment for the club,” he said. “With the smallest budget in the league and to be able to get into the Championship Playoffs is absolutely crazy.”

Also, Hapoel Haifa drew 2-2 with Hapoel Ra’anana as both squads will play the final part of the season in the relegation playoffs.

Ra’anana took a 1-0 lead when Mirko Ormush found Karem Arshid who beat Ernestas Setkus one-on-one to shock the Sammy Ofer crowd.

The Carmel Reds went into halftime all even at 1-1 thanks to an Idan Shemesh strike and then took the lead in the 69th minute via a Guy Hadida header off of Gili Vermouth’s second assist of the contest.

But Yarden Cohen drove home a 20-meter blast in the 74th minute to secure a split of the points and send Sharon Mimer’s side into the lower half of the table.

In other action, Maccabi Haifa solidified second place with a 3-2 away win at Kiryat Shmona. The Greens are now undefeated in 12 straight league matches under Marko Balbul as they head into the championship playoffs with the goal of wrapping up a European qualifying place.

Shon Weissman, who entered the game in the 64th minute, scored a brace to rally Haifa from a 2-1 deficit to record the win up north.

Haifa took a third-minute lead when Yarden Shua assisted on a Raz Meir marker, but the host side scored a pair of late first-half goals, thanks to Jorge Morcillo and Yoel Abuhatzera, to grab a one-goal advantage heading into the break.

But Balbul inserted Weissman and the youngster worked his magic, first by scoring off a magnificent through-ball and then giving Haifa the lead for good in the 87th minute thanks to a gorgeous Kerim Frei assist to grab the three points.

After four straight seasons in the Championship Playoffs, Beitar Jerusalem will head to the relegation playoffs after falling at home to Hapoel Tel Aviv 1-0.

Nir Kilnger’s side couldn’t find the back of the goal throughout the 90 minutes and then gave up an Ahmed Abed strike from inside the box as the Reds took home the victory.

Hapoel Beersheba and last-place Bnei Sakhnin played to a goalless draw at Doha Stadium in the Galilee.

Beersheba ’keeper Ohad Levita was the star of the show and helped his side take a point, especially after Oren Bitton was booked with a straight red card in the 47th minute due to a reckless tackle on Ali Osman.

Maccabi Petah Tikva ended a tumultuous regular season with a 2-0 win over relegation candidate Ashdod. Eli Elbaz scored the first goal of the contest in the 11th minute and Armando Copper slotted home a penalty in the 54th minute after a Nir Bardea handball in the box to take the three points.

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