hapoel tel aviv itai shechter 311.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv not only got back into the title race on Monday night, but did so with a victory its fans will be talking about for many years to come.
Hapoel thrashed arch-rival Maccabi Tel Aviv 4-2 at Bloomfield Stadium, closing to within nine points of defending champion Maccabi Haifa and rekindling its title hopes, with the margin from Haifa to be halved ahead of the third round of matches.
Maccabi could have leapfrogged Hapoel into second position in the standings with a win, but it was mercilessly crushed into submission by a farsuperior team, which after decades of pain finally leads the head-to-head standings between the sides, claiming its 42nd win to Maccabi’s 41.
Monday’s match was a derby to remember. Hapoel scored three goals within 13 first-half minutes, leading 3-0 in the 30th minute. Maccabi got a goal back in the 38th minute and could have cut the margin even further before the break, with Maor Buzaglo missing a penalty kick in the 44th minute.
Maccabi pushed forward in desperation in the second half, but Itai Shechter gave Hapoel a three-goal cushion once more in the 65th minute with his second goal of the night and Buzaglo’s goal 12 minutes later proved to be no more than a bitter consolation.
Maccabi coach Avi Nimni was disappointed with the score line, but supported his players.
“Hapoel is the better team and it deserved to win,” said Nimni, whose team entered the match on the back of six straight victories. “We are going through a rebuilding process and we believe in the players. I am the one to blame for the defeat.”
Shechter should have given the visitors the lead with the match less than 30 seconds old, but he sent his chip horribly wide and Maccabi was spared.
Just like Gutman’s in Russia last week Nimni’s men were completely frozen and Eran Zehavi came centimeters from scoring with his shot from the edge of the area after three minutes.
Two minutes passed, and Maccabi got in the act. Yossi Shivhon’s bicycle kick beat ‘keeper Vincent Enyeama, but Walid Badier was well placed to clear the ball from the line.
The match continued at a frenetic pace in the subsequent minutes, but as it progressed Hapoel became the more dangerous side and it didn’t take long before it took a deserved lead.
A well-worked team move ended with Zehavi crossing the ball for Maharan Lala, who easily slotted in past Liran Strauber.
It took Hapoel just four minutes to double its lead. Lala squared the ball for Shechter and the in-form striker tapped in his team’s second goal.
Maccabi was in total shock and with Hapoel cutting the yellow-and-blue’s defense to ribbons in practically every surge forward there was little doubt a third goal was only a matter of time.
With only 30 minutes gone, Gili Vermut was given time and space on the edge of the area and his pin-point cross left Douglas da Silva with an easy header in front of goal.
With his team falling apart, Nimni had to make a change and in the 34th minute he called for a double substitution. Buzaglo came on for Tamir Kahlon and Andrej Komac replaced Guillermo Israilevich.
Within four minutes the substitution bore fruit.
Buzaglo stole the ball from Gal Shish and his accurate pass left Avidur with an easy tap-in.
Maccabi suddenly believed there was plenty to play for and a minute from the break got a golden opportunity to close the gap.
Yuval Spungin was brought down in the box by Zehavi, but Buzaglo’s poor spot kick was kept out by an alert Enyeama.
Unsurprisingly, Maccabi was the more urgent of the two teams at the start of the second half. However, it was Hapoel which still created the better scoring chances.
Seven minutes after the interval, Strauber made a double save to deny Lala, but there was nothing he could do 13 minutes later.
With Maccabi sending everyone forward in search of a second goal, Vermut raced almost untouched from the halfway line and unselfishly squared the ball for Shechter to score his second of the game.
Buzaglo got a goal back in the 77th minute after a questionable call by the linesman, but it was too little too late for Maccabi and Hapoel’s fans remained in the stadium long after the final whistle to celebrate a memorable victory.