Maccabi Haifa Yossi Benayoun (left).
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Weeam Amasha’s 90th-minute equalizer gave Maccabi Haifa a precious point in the battle for European qualification on Sunday night, while handing Hapoel Beersheba’s Premier League title hopes another crushing blow.
Beersheba looked to be heading to a slender win thanks to Maor Buzaglo’s superb free-kick from 20 meters out in the 30th minute, with goalkeeper Austin Ejide denying Eliran Atar’s penalty kick eight minutes later.
However, substitute Amasha leveled the score with a powerful header into the top right corner, costing Beersheba dearly while giving Haifa a sweet point, in particular for captain Yossi Benayoun who was booed by the local fans in his first match against his boyhood club at Vasermil Stadium since 2001.
“I think a draw is a fair result,” said Haifa coach Marco Balbul. “The players deserve a lot of credit for their determination.”
Beersheba could find itself 10 points behind leader Maccabi Tel Aviv with seven matches to play should the yellow- and-blue beat Ironi Kiryat Shmona on the road on Monday.
“We sat back in the second half and paid the price,” said Beersheba coach Elisha Levy. “There is a big gap between us and Maccabi, but we will continue to fight as long as we have a chance.”
Also Sunday, Beitar Jerusalem squandered a golden opportunity to strengthen its hold on fourth place after being held to a 0-0 draw at Maccabi Petah Tikva.
Beitar registered 25 shots towards goal, including 10 on target, but its wastefulness combined with an inspired performance by Petah Tikva goalkeeper Itamar Nitzan meant the match ended in a goalless deadlock.
Beitar remained in fourth place, three points clear of Haifa. Fourth place will be sufficient for European qualification assuming either Maccabi Tel Aviv or Beersheba go on to lift the State Cup as well as end the season in first or second places as expected.
“We played really well and continued to improve in many aspects of the game,” said Beitar coach Guy Levy.
“However, we were unfortunate and failed to score. You get these matches, but the team has improved significantly and I’m very pleased. We are building a top team for years to come at Beitar and if we continue to play like this we will win our remaining matches.”
On Monday, Maccabi Tel Aviv will aim to edge closer to clinching a third straight championship when it visits Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
Despite making huge strides towards the league title in recent weeks, especially with last Monday’s 3-1 win over Beersheba, Maccabi has struggled away from Bloomfield Stadium in recent months.
The yellow-and-blue has gone winless in its past three matches on the road, picking up just a single point, with its last away win coming almost three months ago at Ashdod SC.
Maccabi has also failed to record a victory in its past four games in Kiryat Shmona.