Maccabi Haifa players celebrating.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
The Premier League title will not be decided at Turner Stadium on Sunday night. But the showdown between reigning champion Hapoel Beersheba and the title holder in the three previous seasons Maccabi Tel Aviv provides both teams with an ideal opportunity to make a powerful statement.
Beersheba unsuccessfully chased Maccabi for years until it claimed its first championship since 1976 last season. Maccabi is still trying to get used to being the challenger and will enter Sunday’s match as the underdog, a role it has very rarely held in local action over recent seasons.
There seems to be little doubt that one of the two will also end this season as champion, with the teams entering the match tied on 16 points. Beersheba holds first place thanks to a slightly superior goal difference (+13 to +12) and also has momentum on its side, winning its last three league matches by a combined goal difference of 10-0.
Maccabi had won three straight games by a combined goal difference of 11-0 before suffering a surprise 2-0 defeat at home to Maccabi Haifa last Monday for its first loss of the campaign.
“This is a match between two excellent teams and I don’t think there is a favorite,” said Beersheba coach Barak Bachar. “We are in good shape and we want to build on that, but we are facing an excellent side and this is a match in which anything is possible.”
Maccabi Haifa moved within a single point of the top two with a resounding 5-0 victory over Hapoel Ashkelon on Saturday.
Haifa built on last week’s victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv with its biggest win of the season.
San Menahem opened the scoring in the 17th minute, with Glynor Plet (21) and Eliran Atar’s (45) penalty giving the hosts a 3-0 lead at the break. Gili Vermouth scored from the spot six minutes into the second half and Atar wrapped up the scoring 10 minutes from time.
“This is a very satisfying win,” said Haifa coach Rene Meulensteen.
“It is about making steps. Every time I highlight to the players what is the next step they can take. Beating Maccabi Tel Aviv was a big step, but I told the players it wouldn’t have that much significance if we didn’t win this match.”
Hapoel Tel Aviv couldn’t make it three wins in a row on Saturday, drawing 1-1 against 10-man Hapoel Kfar Saba. Claudiu Bumba gave Tel Aviv the lead in the 19th minute and Kfar Saba was down to 10 men following Slobodan Simovic’s sending off in the 60th minute.
The visitors would nevertheless equalize five minutes later thanks to Dusan Matovic’s left-footed effort.
Bnei Sakhnin defeated Hapoel Haifa 2-1 on Saturday via goals from Yuval Avidor (57) and Jude Nworuh (66), with Nisso Kapiloto netting Haifa’s consolation goal in stoppage time.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Ra’anana and Ashdod SC drew 0-0.
Elsewhere Sunday, Maccabi Petah Tikva faces Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
Beitar Jerusalem welcomes Bnei Yehuda on Monday.