(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Betar Jerusalem returned to its winning ways Sunday night, defeating Maccabi Netanya 1-0 at "The Box" stadium in Netanya with Romulo's seventh league goal of the season.
The Israeli champion looked unconvincing for much of the match, but won thanks to pinpoint finishing by the Brazilian striker, who poked the ball home on the volley from a Michael Zandberg cross in the 63rd minute.
Neither team performed well in a poor first half in which the players seemed to be unable to string more than a couple of passes together.
Betar coach Itzhak Schum must have given the stronger team talk at half time and the visitors came out in the second period with more purpose.
Both sides had penalty claims turned down during the match, with Betar's Arik Benado's handball in the second half the worst offense.
After being held 0-0 in its previous two matches, Schum will be satisfied to have taken all three points from a resilient, if unimpressive, Netanya team.
The result stretched Betar's lead at the top of the table to five points over Maccabi Petah Tikva, while Reuven Atar's Netanya stayed in fourth place, seven points off the top.
It was a scrappy game for the first 15 minutes, although Betar should have taken the lead in the fifth minute when Romulo received the ball on the edge of the Netanya penalty area from his strike partner Barak Itzhaki. But Romulo preferred to shoot wide rather than pass to Zandberg, who had run into space on his left-hand side.
The game was not exactly an advertisement for Israeli soccer, a point exemplified when Betar's Derek Boateng fired a half volley several meters over the Netanya goal in the 24th minute rather than look for a player to pass to. Boateng, often regarded as the best foreigner playing in Israel, was one of the worst offenders, constantly wasting opportunities to launch attacks.
Betar edged the first period with Idan Tal coming close after 19 minutes but seeing his powerful shot saved by Netanya goalkeeper Liran Strauber. Strauber could only push away as he saved to his right, but Tal booted the rebound over the bar.
A few minutes later, Dedi Ben-Dayan dribbled into the Betar penalty area, exchanged a one-two with with Tamir Cohen and shot from a few meters out, but Betar goalie Trvtko Kale saved to his left.
The goal 17 minutes before the end sealed the win for the champion.
Ten minutes later, a Zandberg volley was saved off the line by Almog Cohen, who suffered a concussion from the ferociousness of the shot.
Cohen was revived, carried off the pitch and substituted for, despite trying to convince coach Atar he was fine to continue playing.
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