maccabi haifa hapoel tel aviv 248.88.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Any questions over Maccabi Haifa's ability to challenge for local glory while competing in the Champions League were laid to rest on Monday.
Haifa maintained its perfect start to the season in impressive fashion, claiming a 2-1 victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium.
In the scintillating match, played at a frantic pace, Haifa and Tel Aviv showed just why they were the two title favorites ahead of the season.
The encounter, which was brought forward from next week because of Yom Kippur, lived up to the high expectations, with both teams creating numerous scoring opportunities.
Haifa got off to a perfect start, with Yaniv Katan scoring from the penalty spot after Omri Canada handled the ball in the box with the match a mere 60 seconds old.
When Eyal Golasa scored in the 26th minute it seemed as though the Greens might just run away with the victory.
However, Itai Shechter ensured that would not be the case with his cool finish 10 minutes later, and the encounter went down to the wire.
Tel Aviv sent everyone forward in search of a goal and Haifa had room for its lethal breaks, but somehow both sides failed to score again and the visitors held on for their fourth straight league victory.
"We scored nice goals and defended well," Haifa coach Elisha Levy said. "We played much better than last week and that might be the most important thing."
Even though the season is only a month old, Hapoel already finds itself with ground to make up on Haifa, trailing the defending champion by seven points.
"We found ourselves one goal down before the match really started," said Hapoel coach Eli Gutman, who was furious his side was forced by the Israel Football Association to play Hapoel Beersheba, Celtic and Haifa within eight days.
"I'm proud of my players, but the fatigue took its toll as the match progressed."
The match had burst into life with only a minute on the clock.
Hapoel right back Canada accidently handled the ball in the box, leaving referee Menashe Mashiah with no choice but to point to the spot.
Katan coolly slotted in the penalty and the showdown was off to a cracking start.
Hapoel immediately pushed forward in search of a quick equalizer, but the Haifa defense held strong.
Shechter's appeals for a penalty were turned down in the 16th minute and 10 minutes later it was Haifa which scored again.
Peter Masilela found Golasa on the edge of the box and the 17-year-old sent a superb shot into the corner of Vincent Enyeama's goal, giving the Nigerian 'keeper no chance.
Tel Aviv went into shock after going two goals down, but a gift by Haifa goalkeeper Nir Davidovich brought the hosts back into the match.
Davidovich recklessly rushed out of goal and Shechter kept his composure and sent the ball into the back of the net through Davidovich's legs.
Five minutes before the break Maccabi very nearly regained its two-goal advantage thanks to some fantastic play by Katan. The forward sent an outstanding cross right into the path of Vladimir Dvalishvili, only for the Georgian to balloon his effort high above Enyeama's goal.
The excellent first half ended on the high it deserved, with Davidovich leaping to save Douglas da Silva's header moments before Mashiah blew his whistle for the break.
Hapoel was always going to be the more attacking side at the start of the second half and in the 62nd minute it reached its first good chance to equalize. Shechter found space in the Haifa box, but his header was disappointingly off target.
Just a minute passed and Mohammad Ghadir squandered a golden opportunity to regain his team's cushion. Despite only having Enyeama to beat, the 18-yead-old didn't release his shot on time and allowed Dedi Ben-Dayan to slide in and clear the danger.
With Hapoel sending more and more players forward in search of a goal, Haifa had big spaces to take advantage of and should have really scored its third.
In the 70th minute, substitute Shlomi Arbeitman beat Enyeama with his lob, but his effort was not good enough and Walid Badier raced back in time to clear the ball moments before it crossed the line.
Six minutes later, Katan uncharacteristically miss hit his shot from the center of the box and the visitors almost paid the price seven minutes from time. Hapoel midfielder Gili Vermut had time and space, but his shot was high and the hosts were running out of energy and ideas.
Mashiah added six minutes of injury time, but Tel Aviv was exhausted, with almost the entire lineup playing for a second time in five days following Thursday's Europa League match against Celtic. Nemanja Vucicevic had one final chance in stoppage time, but his header was high and Haifa extended its flawless start to the season.