Hapoel Tel Aviv and Bnei Yehuda registered convincing wins this weekend in Premier League matches ahead of their matchup on Tuesday in the State Cup final.
Dror Kashtan's reds thrashed Hapoel Petah Tikva, thanks to an Ibazito Ogabuna brace, while Bnei Yehuda beat Ashdod SC to strengthen its hold onto fourth place, which leads to the UEFA Cup.
Maccabi Haifa crowned its 10th domestic championship with a victory over an adamant Maccabi Petah Tikva at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium, while Ton Caanen's Maccabi Tel Aviv prevailed over Maccabi Netanya.
The relegation battle will probably be decided Sunday night as Eli Ohana's Hapoel Kfar Saba hosts Bnei Sakhnin and Motti Ivanir's Upper Nazareth travels to Teddy Stadium to take on Luis Fernandez's Betar Jerusalem.
Both Kfar Saba and Nazareth have 31 points and are fighting to avoid finishing the season in 11th place, which leads to the National League for the 2006/07 season. Kfar Saba has a slight edge at the moment due to a superior goal difference, which is the tiebreaker.
Maccabi Haifa 2, Maccabi Petah Tikva 1
With former greats Baruch Maman, Nenad Pralija and Sergei Kandaurov in attendance, Maccabi Haifa officially celebrated its third straight league title in front of a capacity crowd at Kiryat Eliezer.
The greens came out in an attacking formation and took the early lead, when veteran full back Alon Harazi headed in an Idan Tal corner from close range in the 16th minute.
Petah Tikva found the equalizer just a minute later when Salim Toema crossed the ball towards the unmarked Patrick Suffo, who used all his experience and drilled in the ball from close range.
Haifa took the lead again in the 76th minute, with a trademark Idan Tal penalty kick that came as a result of a foul on Roberto Colautti in the box.
Michael Zandberg was sent off in the 79th minute after a reckless tackle on Rubel Sarsour, but the visitors failed to take advantage in the remaining minutes.
"It was very important to win this game." Haifa coach Roni Levy explained after the win. "We are always committed to winning games and I am sure we will produce a strong defense of our title next season."
Hapoel Tel Aviv 3, Hapoel Petah Tikva 0
In Dror Kashtan's last game at Bloomfield Stadium, the reds dominated from the start, rendered the visitors helpless and put on a great show for 5,000 fans.
The breakthrough came in the 23rd minute when Gil Vermut dribbled past the Petah Tikva defense and squared the ball to Ilya Yevorian, who scored against his former team.
Tel Aviv kept coming ahead in the second half and the hard work was rewarded with two quick goals in the span of nine minutes.
Substitute Ogabuna doubled the lead in the 73rd minute, after taking advantage of a mix-up in Petah Tikva's defense. The Nigerian striker struck again after a brilliant solo dribble.
Maccabi Tel Aviv 3, Maccabi Netanya 1
Without stars Avi Nimni and Eyal Berkovic, Maccabi Tel Aviv's Ofir Haim came through with the opener in the 28th minute.
Netanya levelled the score in the 36th minute when Dekel Keinan glanced in an Alain Masudi free kick, but Tel Aviv was back ahead just four minutes later when Giorgi Demetradze scored with a looping, long-range strike.
Youngster Itzik Shemesh scored the first goal of his Premier League career when he finished off a swift counterattack to cap the scoring in the 89th minute.
Bnei Yehuda 2, Ashdod SC 1
In the Matchday 32 opener on Friday, Bnei Yehuda registered another win over Yossi Mizrahi's Ashdod SC thanks to two second half goals by Eli Abarbanel (46, 65).
In what turned out to be no more than a consolation goal, Shai Holtzman scored his 18th goal of the season with a spectacular, left-footed strike in the 86th minute.
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