Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Eran Zahavi (right).
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
An Eran Zahavi brace saved Maccabi Tel Aviv from defeat at Teddy Stadium on Monday night, but it was only good enough for an entertaining 2-2 draw against Beitar Jerusalem.
Maccabi was aiming to close back within a single point of league leader Hapoel Beersheba, but could only cut the deficit to three points after coming up against a feisty Beitar side.
The hosts controlled the possession from the start, but squandered several superb opportunities before Zahavi made the most of Maccabi’s first chance of the night in the 24th minute to give the visitors the lead. Nosa Igiebor’s lobbed pass found Zahavi in space and the league’s leading scorer found the back of the net with a typical clinical finish.
Beitar continued to dominate and finally scored a deserved equalizer 10 minutes from the break courtesy of Omer Atzili. A stunning strike from 20 meters out by 20-year-old Beitar midfielder David Keltjens two minutes into the second half left goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic helpless, but Zahavi would ensure Maccabi at least returned home with a point, curling his free kick from the edge of the box into the top right corner in the 70th minute to take his tally for the season to 24 league goals.
Nine of the league’s 14 teams have scored fewer than 24 goals so far this season, including fifth-place Maccabi Haifa.
Maccabi was playing without both of its January signings, with Bosnian midfielder Haris Medunjanin being left off the squad a day after returning to the team, while Portuguese striker Orlando Sa, who scored on his debut in the State Cup win over Hapoel Rishon Lezion last Thursday after completing a move from Reading of the English Championship for a fee estimated at 800,000 euros, missed out through injury.
“For one hour Beitar was the better team but after 60 minutes we started playing better and in the end we could have won the game,” said Maccabi coach Peter Bosz. “I think a draw is the maximum for us today.”
The first title of the soccer season will be handed out on Tuesday night when Maccabi Petah Tikva faces Ironi Kiryat Shmona in the Toto Cup final in Netanya.
It may only be local soccer’s second cup competition, but both teams will still be desperate to celebrate on Tuesday, especially as it will be their final opportunity to claim a trophy in 2015/16. Both sides have already been knocked out of the State Cup and never had any aspirations of challenging for the Premier League championship.
Kiryat Shmona is targeting a fifth title in the past six seasons, including a third Toto Cup after lifting the trophy in 2010/11 and 2011/12. Kiryat Shmona also won an historic championship in 2011/12 and the State Cup in 2013/14.
Petah Tikva, on the other hand, is looking to claim its first title in 12 years, and a fourth Toto Cup in all, last winning the trophy in 2004.
“We overcame a tough group, which included Maccabi Tel Aviv, and knocked out Beitar Jerusalem and Maccabi Haifa on the way to the final so after going all this way we want to win the cup,” said Petah Tikva coach Ran Ben-Shimon, whose team has lost five straight matches over all competitions.
“This will be an emotional occasion for both teams.”