Maccabi Tel Aviv .
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Herzilya and Hapoel Kfar Saba have given Hapoel Tel Aviv a chance to make a move in the Premier League standings.
Herzliya held league leader Betar Jerusalem to a 2-2 draw and Kfar Saba - whose coach Eli Ohana is a legendary Betar star - battled second-place Maccabi Tel Aviv as well to a 2-2 draw on Saturday.
Hapoel Tel Aviv, which is now three points behind fierce cross-town rival Maccabi and 10 points away from Betar, hosts Bnei Yehuda in the Matchday 28 finale Monday night, after the end of Holocaust Remembrance Day. With five matches left in the season, Maccabi Tel Aviv will need to bridge the seven-point gap with Betar to claim the championship.
Tel Aviv entered the clash with visiting Kfar Saba as the clear favorite, but fell victim to a late Shalev Menashe strike and missed a big chance to alter the status quo ante at the top of the standings.
"We should have won this game easily," said a disappointed Eli Cohen, Maccabi Tel Aviv's coach. "Kfar Saba did a good defensive job. We should have secured all three points, but my players wasted many goal-scoring opportunities.
"Our defensive blunders cost us valuable points. But we'll keep fighting until the end."
Ohana had to make numerous changes to his starting lineup, as he was without the services of key starters. Samuel Yeboah sat out with a one-game suspension, while former Tel Aviv striker Jose Duarte was declared unfit due to a thigh strain.
Tel Aviv took full advantage right away.
After numerous attacks on the Kfar Saba goal, the yellow-and-blue finally found the breakthrough in the 32nd minute. With most of the Kfar Saba players playing behind the ball, Giovanni Rosso lost his defender and received the ball at the edge of the box. The veteran Croatian produced an exquisite chip to score his fourth of the season.
Kfar Saba pushed up the field after the goal and the effort paid off two minutes before halftime. Avi Knafo made a brilliant run on the left flank and chipped the ball into the box. Veteran striker Oren Nissim nodded the ball in from close range to stun the 5,000-strong Tel Aviv crowd.
Cohen inserted dynamic midfielder Yossi Shivhon into the grind, who had a hand in an impressive goal in the 63rd minute. The substitute created an opportunity for Avi Nimni, who scored from inside the box to restore Maccabi's lead.
However, Menashe found the late equalizer in the 86th minute with a deft strike from inside the box.
"My reserves did the job," said Ohana. "I told the lads that I won't accept any excuses today. They responded well and played well. I must admit that I'm happy that we helped Betar also, but my first concern is making Kfar Saba a better soccer team for the next season."
Betar Jerusalem 2,Maccabi Herzliya 2
Herzliya drew first blood in the sixth minute by making the most of an outrageous error by the Betar defense.
Pati Yablanka slipped past the hosts' rearguard and jabbed the ball in from point-blank range to score a shocking early goal.
Then, Yossi Mizrahi's squad got its act together.
Michael Zandberg worked his magic in midfield, made a brilliant slalom en route to the Herzliya box and set up Barak Itzhaki, who had no problem in applying the finish and levelling the score in the 36th minute.
The second half was completely dominated by Betar, which created numerous chances for the strikers.
Itzhaki put Jerusalem ahead in the 68th minute with a clinical finish from close range, but the plot thickened in the closing stages.
With Betar looking to increase its lead, Igor Mostarlic took the ball in his stride and found himself with only Jerusalem 'keeper Itzik Korenfein to beat. The striker was fouled in the box and a penalty kick was awarded.
Omer Buksenboim converted the spotkick in the 84th minute, and the match ended in a draw.