Beitar Jerusalem and Maccabi Haifa are two of the four teams battling for Europa League qualification, with Itay Shechter (right) and Beitar to host Bnei Sakhnin on Saturday, while Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson (left) and Haifa visit Maccabi Tel Aviv on Sunday.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
After its hopes of claiming a first trophy since 2009 were disappointingly dashed in the State Cup semifinals on Wednesday night, Beitar Jerusalem shifts its focus back to the Premier League on Saturday, knowing all it has left to fight for is qualification for the Europa League.
Ever since it secured a place in the semifinals on the first day of March, Beitar became fixated with the semifinal date with Maccabi Tel Aviv, especially as the final will be played at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.
Beitar lost three of its four league games since its quarterfinal triumph, but remains five points back of Maccabi Petah Tikva in third place, with Petah Tikva also picking up only three of a possible 12 points from its last four matches, losing three in a row.
A third-place finish guarantees a place in the Europa League qualifiers next season, but fourth will also be good enough for continental qualification should Maccabi Tel Aviv defeat Bnei Yehuda in next month’s cup final and finish in the top three as expected.
Maccabi is a firm favorite, with Bnei Yehuda sitting just six points above the relegation zone.
Beitar enters Saturday’s match against Bnei Sakhnin at Teddy in fourth place, but is only one point ahead of its rival, with Maccabi Haifa another point further back.
Haifa visits Maccabi Tel Aviv on Sunday, while Petah Tikva hosts leader Hapoel Beersheba.
“We really wanted to reach the final and gave our all,” said Beitar coach Sharon Mimer. “We have put the defeat in the semis behind us and we are totally focused on reaching Europe via the league.”
With each team in the relegation playoffs only having five more matches to play until the end of the season, the battle against demotion looks set to be fought out between four clubs.
Hapoel Ashkelon and Hapoel Kfar Saba currently sit in the relegation zone with 22 points each, with Hapoel Tel Aviv just one point further in front. Bnei Yehuda has a significant six points cushion on the bottom two, but has still got some work to do to secure its survival.
Hapoel Tel Aviv climbed out of the relegation zone for the first time since it was deducted nine points for going into administration three month ago after defeating Bnei Yehuda 2-0 last week. Hapoel visits Hapoel Haifa (31 points) on Saturday, aiming to combine three straight wins for the first time this season.
“To arrive at a match like this on the back of two straight wins does the team a world of good. This gives us confidence that we will avoid relegation,” said Hapoel coach Menahem Koretzki. “We have worked very hard so our fate would be in our hands. But it is going to be even more difficult to retain our current position.”
Four days after it advanced to its first cup final since 2010 with a 1-0 win over Hapoel Ramat Gan of the National League, Bnei Yehuda hopes to take an important step towards securing its survival when it hosts Hapoel Kfar Saba.
Kfar Saba has won just one of its past 19 league matches, a streak stretching back five months.
Kfar Saba is only ahead of rock-bottom Ashkelon on goal difference, with Ashkelon winning just one of its last 10 matches. Yuval Naim’s team visits Ra’anana on Saturday.
Ashdod hosts Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Sunday night.