Hapoel Beersheba players had good reason to celebrate last night after beating Maccabi Petah Tikva 1-0 on the road to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League standings..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Beersheba coach Barak Bachar wasn’t even born when the club last claimed the Premier League championship.
He will, however, forever be remembered as the man who helped Beersheba to the promised land after 40 years of wandering should it defeat Maccabi Haifa at Haifa Stadium on Saturday night and clinch the league title.
After coming up short in the title race in the past two seasons, Beersheba owner Alona Barkat chose against renewing coach Elisha Levy’s contract last summer, opting instead to inject new blood.
Bachar had only coached at one club before being hired by Barkat. He became Ironi Kiryat Shmona’s head coach two months into the 2012/13 campaign, replacing Gili Landau after working as his assistant and as Ran Ben-Shimon’s righthand man during the team’s historic league triumph in 2011/12.
He led the team to a fifth place finish and the State Cup final in his first season before ending 2013/14 in third place and guiding the club to its first cup triumph.
Bachar left Kiryat Shmona in acrimonious fashion, being sacked with the team in second place late last season after owner Izzy Sheratzky claimed he had been negotiating with Beersheba behind his back. He was officially announced as Beersheba’s new coach 10 days later.
While his coaching career got off to a promising start, appointing the relatively inexperienced and unproven Bachar was somewhat of a gamble by Barkat, especially with the team’s clear goal being to win a championship.
It has paid off spectacularly so far, with Bachar on course to become the youngest coach to guide a team to the local league title in 37 years.
Nissim Bachar (no relation) was a month younger when he led Maccabi Tel Aviv to the league title in 1979, a few months before Barak Bachar was born. The youngest coach to win a championship was Moshe Varon, who guided Hapoel Petah Tikva to the title at the age of 29 in 1958.
After increasing its gap at the top of the standings to five points on Monday, Beersheba needs just two more points from its final two matches to clinch the title regardless of Maccabi’s results. Beersheba can make it official with a win in Haifa or should Maccabi fail to defeat Beitar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium.
Should Beersheba miss out on Saturday, it will have another opportunity in its final match of the season against Bnei Sakhnin at Turner Stadium next week while Tel Aviv will host Maccabi Haifa.
“I’m trying to remain calm because I know how big this will be,” said Bachar following his team’s 2-0 win over Beitar Jerusalem on Monday.
“We need to take one more step.”
Haifa is the only team Beersheba hasn’t beaten this season, with all three meetings in the league ending in draws and the Greens claiming a 3-1 win in the cup semifinals.
Haifa opened a three-point gap in fourth place over Bnei Sakhnin last weekend.
The team that will finish in fourth will qualify for the Europa League next season should Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Maccabi Haifa in the State Cup final later this month. A Haifa win in the final would secure its place in Europe next season and render fourth place all but meaningless.
Haifa announced on Wednesday that coach Roni Levy will continue for another season, while unveiling Norwegian Tor-Kristian Karlsen as the club’s Sports Director, a position which hadn’t existed at the club previously.
Karlsen was the Sports Director and CEO at AS Monaco of the French league in 2012, leaving after less than a year. The 41-year-old has also worked as a scout at several clubs, including Watford F.C. (1998-2000) and in Germany with Bayer 04 Leverkusen (2000- 2004) and Hannover 96 (2004-2006).
Also Saturday, Sakhnin hosts Hapoel Ra’anana and Hapoel Kfar Saba visits Maccabi Netanya. The battle against relegation will be decided with the final matches of the relegation playoffs on Monday. Hapoel Acre hosts Kiryat Shmona in a direct showdown against demotion to the National League, while Hapoel Haifa welcomes Bnei Yehuda.
Acre (33 points, -21 goal difference) will secure its survival with a win, with a draw to also be good enough should Haifa lose to Bnei Yehuda. Haifa (33 points, -10) will stay up as long as it at least matches Acre’s result.
Kiryat Shmona (35 points, -7) only needs a draw to remain in the top tier.