Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Owner and players celebrating.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
It may have seemed like a foregone conclusion long ago, but Maccabi Tel Aviv finally made it official on Sunday night, beating Ironi Kiryat Shmona 2-1 at Bloomfield Stadium to wrap up its third consecutive Premier League championship.
Maccabi has been in cruise control for more than a month since defeating Hapoel Beersheba 3-1 and opening an eight-point gap at the top of the standings.
The yellow-and-blue won just one of the following five matches, but still clinched the title with two games to spare on Sunday, joining Maccabi Haifa (2004-2006) 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 in Haifa on Wednesday.
Despite playing without suspended star Eran Zahavi and falling behind to Roei Kehat’s 11th-minute opener, Maccabi bounced back to maintain its unbeaten home record this season and open a ninepoint cushion over Kiryat Shmona with only six more points left to play for.
Kiryat Shmona dominated the first 30 minutes against a disjointed Maccabi, but the hosts crucially leveled the score through Rade Prica’s header one minute from the interval, and Maharan Radi netted the winner in the 64th minute to secure the club a record 22nd league championship.
“This is a great feeling of satisfaction,” said Maccabi sports director Jordi Cruyff. “It has been a very hard season, so very big compliments to all the staff and of course to the players who show the hunger and character they need to have to maintain the success rate they have shown.”
Elsewhere Sunday, the turmoil at Maccabi Netanya continued when the players discovered that the checks they were given last week to cover their salaries for February and March had bounced. Netanya players went on a four-day strike two weeks ago due to the club’s ongoing struggles to pay their salaries in a timely fashion. Netanya has been in disarray since the departure of owner Eli Segev late last year and is desperately searching for a new owner.
The club promised the players that a misunderstanding with the bank caused their checks to bounce on Sunday and insisted that the matter had been taken care of and that they will be able to cash their salaries on Monday.
Netanya, which drew 0-0 with Hapoel Haifa in its final match of the season on Saturday and ended the campaign in ninth place, is hoping that the sale of Nigerian forward Olarenwaju Kayode to Austria Vienna on Sunday will help cover its remaining debts to the players.
On Monday, Beitar Jerusalem will aim to move back tied on points with Maccabi Haifa in the battle for fourth place and Europa League qualification when it visits Maccabi Petah Tikva.
Beitar is still waiting to hear whether its appeal against the two-point deduction it was handed for its fans’ racist chants will be reduced or overturned.