Hapoel Beersheba striker Ben Sahar (right) and teammate Maor Buzaglo, who both scored last night, celebrate the club's first Premier League championship in 40 years..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
For so long it seemed like an impossible dream. Something which could happen 40 years ago, but that was beyond the reach of a club like Hapoel Beersheba in this day and age.
However, the dream became a reality on Saturday night when Beersheba clinched its first Premier League championship since 1976, completing a roller- coaster four-decade journey with far more painful lows than exhilarating highs.
Beersheba secured the title with a 3-1 win over Bnei Sakhnin at Turner Stadium in the final day of the season on Saturday, maintaining its two-point gap over three-time defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv, which thrashed Maccabi Haifa 6-0 at Bloomfield Stadium.
Maccabi was aiming to become just the second team in local soccer history to win four straight championships, the first since Hapoel Petah Tikva took five consecutive league titles between 1959 and 1963.
For 11 minutes on Saturday it was in a position to do so, with Eran Zahavi breaking the deadlock in the 28th minute at Bloomfield while the score was still tied at 1-1 in Beersheba.
However, after Maor Buzaglo (16) had canceled out Firas Migrabi’s (6) opener for Sakhnin, Maor Melikson put Beerhsheba back ahead in the match and the title race five minutes from the break and the five goals scored by Maccabi in the second half would change nothing.
Three years after only securing its top-flight survival in the last match of the campaign, Beersheba completed its transformation under the inspired ownership of Alona Barkat by claiming a third championship in club history after winning two in a row in 1974/75 and 1975/76.
The night got off to a nightmare start for Beersheba. Despite having nothing to play for, a swift Sakhnin team move was finished off by Mugrabi in the sixth minute, silencing the nervous local fans at Turner.
It would take Beersheba only 10 minutes to level the score though, with Buzaglo, making his first start in five matches, clinically finishing off a move orchestrated by Melikson on the left flank.
Nevertheless, Turner went very quiet yet again in the 28th minute when news filtered through that Zahavi had given Maccabi the lead at Bloomfield, meaning it would climb to first place if the results stood until the final whistle.
It took Beersheba 11 minutes to regain the upper hand once more in the title race, with Melikson curling the ball into the bottom right corner in the 40th minute.
Beersheba went in chase of a third goal at the start of the second half, but while it kept on coming up just short, with Elyaniv Barda hitting the post in the first minute of the half, Maccabi was piling the goals at Bloomfield.
Pressure levels at Turner climbed with every minute and every goal in Tel Aviv, with Zahavi (48, 61), Tal Ben-Haim (56), Carlos Garcia (64) and Haris Medunjanin (66) scoring to give the yellowand- blue its biggest win of the season.
Zahavi’s hat-trick took his tally for the season to 35 goals, five more than Nissim Elmalich’s previous record which stood for 61 years.
However, Beersheba always controlled its fate and nothing was going to deny it the title once Ben Sahar scored the third goal in the 77th minute, giving the club a championship it waited for since 1976 and so thoroughly deserved.