Enthusiastic Hapoel Beersheba fans hoist banners.
(photo credit: DANNY MAROM)
Hapoel Beersheba got its Premier League title defense off to a winning start on Saturday, surviving a nervy finish to defeat Hapoel Ra’anana 2-1 at Turner Stadium.
After claiming its first championship in 40 years last season, and a mere three days after it was beaten 5-2 by Celtic in the first leg of the Champions League playoffs, Beersheba was desperate for the three points.
It got off to an ideal start thanks to Ben Sahar’s opener after 11 minutes and was cruising when Maharan Radi doubled the advantage three minutes before the break. Rene Mihelic set up a tight finish with his successful penalty for Ra’anana on 75 minutes, but Beersheba held on for the three points and can turn its focus to Tuesday’s second leg against Celtic at Turner.
“The most important thing was to win and we have an interesting challenge ahead of us on Tuesday,” said Beersheba coach Barak Bachar.
“It is difficult to return to league action after a Champions League game. We must be realistic regarding our chances against Celtic.
We need a miracle to progress but miracles sometimes happen. Even if we don’t progress, we want to win this match.”
Elsewhere, an Issoumaila Lingane hat-trick gave newly-promoted Hapoel Ashkelon a dramatic 3-2 win over Hapoel Haifa. The Burkina Faso native scored the winner in the second minute of stoppage time after giving the hosts a 2-0 lead with goals in the 29th and 71st minutes. Haifa had equalized through a Dele Aiyenugba (81) own goal and Adilson Bahia’s (90) strike.
Also Saturday, nine-man Bnei Yehuda drew 1-1 with Bnei Sakhnin.
Georginho netted the opener for Sakhnin after 10 minutes, with Alon Turgeman leveling the score in the 69th for Bnei Yehuda, which lost Xavier Tomas (56) and Itzik Azuz (88) to red cards.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona got life under new coach Moti Ivanir off to a winning start on Saturday, beating Ashdod SC 1-0 through Ahmed Abed’s 42nd-minute penalty. Ashdod had Karlo Brucic sent off in the 39th minute.
After finishing second to Beersheba last season following three straight championships, Maccabi Tel Aviv opens its campaign when it faces Hapoel Kfar Saba at Teddy Stadium on Sunday. Maccabi will host the match in Jerusalem after being punished for its fans unruly behavior.
Maccabi coach Shota Arveladze is set to make several changes to the lineup which beat Hajduk Split 2-1 in the first leg of the Europa League playoffs on Thursday, with a return leg in Croatia to look forward to in four days.
Beitar Jerusalem also begins its league campaign on Sunday due to its participation in the Europa League, visiting Maccabi Petah Tikva.
Beitar suffered a 2-1 defeat to Saint-Etienne of France in the first leg of the playoffs at Teddy Stadium on Wednesday.
Despite the defeat, Jerusalem has impressed under new coach Ran Ben-Shimon, with the squad undergoing an overhaul this summer with the addition of 10 new senior players, including Oz Raly, Idan Vered and Kobi Moyal.
On Monday, Maccabi Haifa, guided for the first time by Sir Alex Ferguson’s former assistant at Manchester United, Rene Meulensteen, hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv and Eli Gutman.