Fight for survival to go down to the wire

Kiryat Shmona, Haifa and Acre set for nerve-racking final weekend, with one team to be relegated.

May 8, 2016 00:56
2 minute read.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona coach Shlomi Dora (second left) celebrates with his players after Austin Amutu s

Ironi Kiryat Shmona coach Shlomi Dora (second left) celebrates with his players after Austin Amutu scored his team’s second goal in last night’s 2-1 win over Hapoel Haifa.. (photo credit: ERAN LUF)

Ironi Kiryat Shmona, Hapoel Haifa and Hapoel Acre will all have their fate in their own hands entering the final weekend of the battle against relegation from the Premier League.

Acre hosts Kiryat Shmona in a direct showdown against demotion to the National League next Saturday, while Hapoel Haifa hosts Bnei Yehuda.

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Acre will enter the match in the relegation zone after only managing a 0-0 drew at Hapoel Kfar Saba on Saturday to move to 33 points (-21 goal difference). Acre will secure its survival with a win, with a draw to also be good enough should Haifa lose to Bnei Yehuda. Kiryat Shmona (35 points, -7) only needs a draw next weekend after it registered just its second victory in 12 matches on Saturday, beating Hapoel Haifa 2-1.

Ahmed Abed’s screamer from 20 meters out broke the deadlock in the 61st minute and Austin Amutu secured the three points in stoppage time before Maharan Lala netted a meaningless consolation goal for Haifa (33 points, -10). Haifa will stay up as long as it matches Acre’s result next weekend.

“This win released a lot of pressure,” said Kiryat Shmona coach Shlomi Dora. “We knew we had to win this match. After seeing my wife give birth like a hero earlier in the week I knew we would do our job.

We are entering the match against Acre in a good position but nothing has been decided yet.”

Acre was guided for the first time by Momi Zafran, who replaced Yaron Hochenboim with the team having just two more matches until the end of the season.

“At least we didn’t lose and still have our fate in our hands,” said Zafran.

Maccabi Haifa took a significant step towards qualifying for the Europa League on Saturday, beating Bnei Sakhnin 1-0 at Doha Stadium thanks to Shahar Hirsch’s winner in the 70th minute. Haifa opened a three-point gap in fourth place over Sakhnin with each team having two more matches to play.

The team that will finish in fourth place 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 captain Yossi Benayoun confirmed on Saturday that he plans to play at least one more season, but said that he may not do so in Haifa.

“I intend to play another season, but it is hard to say where,” said Benayoun. “Soccer sometimes takes you to unexpected places.

Next weekend’s match against Hapoel Beersheba might be my last match at Haifa Stadium as a Maccabi Haifa player.”

Also Saturday, Aaron Schoenfeld scored a hat-trick for Hapoel Tel Aviv in a 4-2 win over Bnei Yehuda. Goals by Hasan Abu Zaid (18) and Jude Nworuh (39) twice gave Bnei Yehuda the lead, but Schoenfeld (29, 58, 82) completed Hapoel’s comeback before Ramzi Sfuri (90) put the icing on the cake.

The battle for the league title will resume on Monday, when leader Hapoel Beersheba, which holds a three-point gap at the top, hosts Beitar Jerusalem, while second- place Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Hapoel Ra’anana.

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