Hapoel Beersheba forward Anthony Nwakaeme (right) celebrates after scoring his team’s winner in last night’s 1-0 victory over Maccabi Haifa at Haifa Stadium..
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Hapoel Beersheba can clinch a second straight Premier League championship on Saturday night after beating Maccabi Haifa on the road for the first time in 20 years on Tuesday.
Beersheba registered its ninth consecutive league win, equaling the club record it set earlier this season, with a 1-0 victory at Haifa Stadium. Hapoel hadn’t beaten the Greens in 19 previous league games in Haifa (3 draws and 16 defeats), a streak stretching back to 1997.
But after ending a 40-year championship drought last season, Beersheba also finally defeated Maccabi in Haifa on Tuesday, maintaining an eight-point margin at the top after Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Bnei Sakhnin 3-1 earlier in the day.
Maccabi hosts Beersheba in Netanya in their final meeting of the season on Saturday, with Beersheba to secure a fourth league title in club history with a win.
Even should Beersheba lose and Maccabi cut the gap to five points, the reigning champion would remain a firm favorite to defend its title as it would only require five points from its final three games to take the championship once more.
Beersheba was far from its best on Tuesday, but an Anthony Nwakaeme goal in the sixth minute was enough to pick up all three points and keep the team on track.
“Our fate is in our hands and of course we took a significant step towards the title with this win, but there are still four more matches to play,” said Beersheba’s beaming coach Barak Bachar. “We are really happy, but we are focused on Saturday’s important match and want to win there as well.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv won for the 13th time in its past 16 matches following the sacking of Shota Arveladze, picking up 25 of a possible 30 points since the hiring of new coach Lito Vidigal.
“We continued to play amazing fantastic football,” said Vidigal. “We scored three goals and I think we had seven more options to score. We believe it is possible to win all our games. I’m here two months and we have grown a lot.
But Beersheba is also winning and we have to be ready to fight and take the three points on Saturday.”
Maccabi couldn’t capitalize on its early chances and the hosts maintained the goalless deadlock until the break.
Sakhnin was also tied with Beersheba at the interval when they played three days earlier, but yet again it ended the night empty handed.
Eyal Golasa put the visitors in charge with the opener three minutes into the second half and Vidar Orn Kjartansson doubled the advantage nine minutes later. Ali Osman handed Sakhnin a lifeline with his accurate free kick in the 77th minute but Kjartansson made sure Maccabi returned home with all three points with his second goal of the evening one minute from time, ensuring the yellow-and-blue’s title challenge remains alive for at least a few more days.
On Wednesday, Beitar Jerusalem hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva in an important showdown in the battle for Europa League qualification.
Petah Tikva looked to be cruising to a third-place finish and a berth in continental competition next season when it entered the championship playoffs with an eight-point cushion over Beitar.
However, it has since lost five straight games and six matches in a row overall, scoring just a single goal over the streak.