Beitar Jerusalem players.
(photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
Beitar Jerusalem took a significant step towards European qualification on Monday night, picking up four points in a single day after beating Maccabi Petah Tikva 2-1 on the road and receiving a point back from the Israel Football Association High Court.
Beitar’s appeal against the two-point deduction it was handed last week for racist chants was reduced to a one-point punishment after its appeal was partially accepted and the win over Petah Tikva took it back up to fourth place, which will secure Europa League qualification at the end of the season.
Beitar moved one point clear of Maccabi Haifa, with both teams having two more matches to play.
Lidor Cohen (16) and Omer Atzili (83) scored for Beitar, before Marwan Kabha netted a consolation goal in the 86th minute.
Earlier Monday, Haifa announced the return of coach Roni Levy on a three-year contract. Levy guided Haifa to three consecutive championships between 2004 and 2006, but left the club in 2008 after two relatively disappointing seasons. The 48-year-old’s career has gone downhill since, but he impressed in a five-month stint at Maccabi Netanya this season, saving the collapsing club from relegation to the National League.
“I’m delighted to be back home,” said Levy. “I hope to take Haifa back to its natural place.”
After a disappointing campaign, its first ever at the new Sammy Ofer Stadium, Haifa is desperate to challenge for the title once more in 2015/16 and break Maccabi Tel Aviv’s dominance over the league.
Maccabi joined Haifa on Sunday as the only teams in the past 51 years to claim three straight championships. The only club to win more than three in a row is Hapoel Petah Tikva, which took five consecutive league titles between 1959 and 1963.
After also lifting the Toto Cup, Israeli soccer’s second cup competition, earlier this season, Maccabi will be aiming to become the first team to claim the local treble when it faces Hapoel Beersheba in the State Cup final at Sammy Ofer Stadium on Wednesday.
Despite being one win away from an unprecedented achievement, it still remains to be seen if Maccabi coach Pako Ayestaran will be back for another season.
Maccabi will not announce its decision before the cup final and Pako sounded frustrated with the situation when one would expect him to be in a celebratory mood after Sunday’s title-clinching 2-1 victory over Ironi Kiryat Shmona at Bloomfield Stadium.
“You can always do better,” said Pako when asked if his team could have won the title in a more impressive fashion.
“Even when I have been successful, and I have been successful many times, I always analyze at the end of the season how many things I could improve and this is what has taken me to the next success.”
Pako added cynically that “it is clear we have played terribly and the rest of the teams in Israel they have played excellently,” before noting how proud he was of the job he has done.
“I know why I came here and I am really proud for the work I have done,” he said. “I feel success and success is not just winning, it is the peace of mind knowing you have done your best. We had ups and downs during the season, but I’m very proud.”