Kiryat Shmona celebrates championship 370.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
And then it arrived.
The final whistle.
The confirmation that what was beyond Ironi Kiryat Shmona’s wildest dreams just a few months ago had turned into a reality.
It had been a long time coming, but on Monday it became official.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona is the Premier League champion for the 2011/12 season after drawing 0-0 with Hapoel Tel Aviv to maintain a 16-point gap at the top of the standings with only five matches remaining in the season.
After failing to clinch the title last week, losing 1-0 to Bnei Yehuda, Kiryat Shmona needed just a single point to win an historic championship on Monday and it overcame a nervy performance to get it.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona only came into existence in 2000 and after two decades of dominance by the traditional big four, Maccabi Haifa, Betar Jerusalem, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Tel Aviv, the northerners became the first real small club to win the championship since Bnei Yehuda did so way back in the 1989/90 campaign.
“This is the happiest moment of my career,” striker Barak Badash said. “I can’t put into words how special this is.
“I’ve had tears in my eyes for the last two weeks and tonight it finally happened. This is the greatest championship in the history of Israeli soccer.”
Kiryat Shmona had the better of the early going, with Badash and Shlomi Azulai both threatening Boris Kleiman’s goal within the first 10 minutes.
Hapoel should have been awarded a penalty in the 20th minute, but instead of pointing to the spot, referee Ziv Adler showed midfielder Elroei Cohen a yellow card for what he believed was a dive.
Badash was by far Kiryat Shmona’s most dangerous player in the first half and he came centimeters away from netting the opener six minutes from the break, but his clever effort from the edge of the box would only shave the crossbar.
The closer the final whistle came, the more nervous Kiryat Shmona got, but even though it rarely tested Kleiman, Hapoel seemed to have no intention to spoil the party and the fireworks lit the northern city’s sky moments after the final whistle.
Earlier Monday, Maccabi Haifa climbed to third place with a 3-0 victory over Ashdod SC at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium The defending champion found itself with an extra man in the 22nd minute after Ofir Marziano denied Weeam Amasha a clear shot on goal by handling the ball outside the box, leaving referee Shay Shitrit with no option but to show him a red card.
Even against 10 men Haifa was struggling to create scoring opportunities, but it netted the opener in the second minute of first half stoppage time courtesy of some excellent work by two promising talents.
Teenage debutant Jaber Ata crossed the ball for 23-year-old Dele Yampolsky who gave substitute ‘keeper Roei Mishpati no chance with a thunderous leftfooted shot.
Despite being down both a goal and a man, Ashdod very nearly equalized in the 77th minute, but Nir Biton shot wide from a tantalizing position 11 meters from goal.
Haifa would clinch the victory three minutes later, with Yaniv Katan making the most of the space afforded to him by the Ashdod defense to fire in from the edge of the area before Seidu Yahaya completed the scoring five minutes from time with a bullet from 20 meters out.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called Ran Ben-Shimon after the match to congratulate him on winning the championship. "You proved that if you really want something than you can get it. I wish you, and all the residents of Kiryat Shmona and the North all the best, and happy holidays."
He added that "we have a small country. We are connecting it now with roads, trains and freeways, so that everyone can travel to Kiryat Shmona to partake in the celebrations. Congratulations."
In other news, charges were filed on Monday against Maccabi Petah Tikva goalkeeping coach Ami Genish and Yigal Maman, a Petah Tikva fan close to the club’s ownership, for assaulting Hapoel Haifa midfielder Ali Khatib on Saturday.
Charges were also pressed against Khatib and Haifa teammate Stefan Denkovic.
In TV footage of the incident at the Moshava Stadium in Petah Tikva which followed a 2-1 win for the hosts, Khatib is clearly seen as throwing a punch at Maccabi’s Danny Preda before being head butted by Genish and allegedly being kicked while on the ground by Maman.