betar jlem netanya ben shushan 248 88.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger )
Could this be the start of the most unlikely of title challenges?
After languishing far from the summit of the Israeli Premier League for the majority of this season, Betar Jerusalem found itself only five points off leader Maccabi Haifa on Monday night following a tense 2-1 win over Maccabi Netanya at Teddy Stadium.
A super long-range strike from defender Cristian Alvarez in the closing moments of the first half completed a comeback for the team which won the championship with ease in the last two years.
This season has been markedly different, however, punctured with scandal and difficulties, most of which have come as a result of owner Arkadi Gaydamak's desertion at the end of last year.
The boss has yet to be heard from publicly since leaving Israel for Russia, but he will surely take some delight in this hard-fought win, even though he is believed to be looking to sell the club in the offseason.
Netanya had taken the lead in the opening quarter of an hour when Bevan Framson's free kick fooled the Jerusalem defense.
However, the home team came back with a fine Amit Ben-Shushan goal and finished off the victory when Alvarez scored a deserved winner.
Netanya's Nikosi Siyabogna registered the first shot on goal in the seventh minute, but his effort went high and wide over Kale's goal.
The visiting side's goal came in the 16th minute after Idan Vered gave away a free kick on the edge of the area. South African defender Framson made no mistake, shooting low under the Betar wall and beneath the goalkeeper.
Kale was furious at his defenders after the goal, and in fact, he probably would have been better off without them on the play.
The game continued to ebb and flow after Netanya took the lead.
Jerusalem midfielder Aviram Bruchian was unlucky not to equalize three minutes after the goal when he attempted to chip Liran Strauber in the Netanya goal. But Maccabi's shot-stopper leaped high and pushed the ball away for a corner.
The momentum moved with Betar in the middle of the first half and soon the tables were turned.
As the game reached its 25th minute, Bruchian put in a sweeping cross from the right hand side, Itzhak's shot was saved by Strauber but Ben-Shushan turned in the rebound.
As the match headed towards halftime Betar moved in front courtesy of a goal of the season contender from right back Alvarez.
The South American appeared to pose no threat as he received the ball 35 meters from the goal, but suddenly he unleashed a wonderful shot which left Strauber no chance as it flew into the top corner while the 'keeper jumped for it helplessly.
The home side controlled the early part of the second half, playing with a sense of unity rarely seen during what has been a troubled season.
In stark contrast to the early lack of understanding between the players shown on the field of play in the opening minutes, Betar's forwards were finding each other with clever touches, although they were unable to turn the advantage into another goal.
However, Netanya was not going to go down lightly and slowly began to impose itself on the match, putting Jerusalem on the back foot.
Siyabogna had a chance to put the team in white level in the 66th minute only to see his strike sail over Kale's goal.
It signaled the start of a Netanya bombardment, which included a fine effort from Itai Shechter which went wide.
The home side's opportunities to score were few and far between, with Itzhaki coming closest 10 minutes from time with a left-footed drive, which drew gasps from the tension-filled crowd.
As the three minutes of injury time started, Alvarez was the hero for the Betar fans once again, this time at the other end though, when he saved off the line during a bungle in the penalty area, when Kale was well inside the six-yard box.
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