maccabi netanya 88.
(photo credit: )
Maccabi Netanya proved that it is by no means out of the title race on Sunday night as it defeated last year's champion Betar Jerusalem 1-0 at "The Box."
Shalev Menashe scored the winner for the home team two minutes into the second half, keeping his team in third position in the league standings.
The result was just the gift Netanya coach Lothar Matthaus was hoping for as he celebrated his 48th birthday with a convincing victory which pulled Maccabi to within three points of leader Maccabi Haifa.
Since losing at Hapoel Tel Aviv in early February Betar had won five league games in a row, including defeating Netanya in the capital in the last game of the last round.
Jerusalem was therefore the favorite on Sunday, but produced a terrible performance which, in part, gifted the win to Maccabi.
The first half was a disappointing affair, with few quality passing moves from either side and even less scoring opportunities.
Dario Fernandez was unlucky not to score for the visitors when his curling corner kick in the ninth minute looked to be going in, and only Klemi Saban's last gasp header against the inside of the cross bar kept it out.
Ten minutes later Betar goalkeeper Tvrtko Kale came to the visiting side's rescue when he dived well to his left to save a glancing header from South African striker Nkosi Siyabonga.
Jerusalem was given a scare when right back Crisitian Alvarez hurt his right thigh and had to go off injured.
Betar coach Reuven Atar brought midfielder Nir Nahum on in place od Alvarez, and he immediately showed his lack of experience at the back when he was turned inside out by the Netanya front line and was lucky to only give away a corner.
Matthaus must have given his side a real talking to at half time because Netanya came storming out of the blocks at the start of the second half, and within two minutes had taken the lead.
Costa Rican defender Luis Marin sent in a good ball which Menashe hit against the post. The rebound came to Itai Shechter who also hit the post before Menashe turned the ball in at the third attempt for his third goal of the season.
Shechter was having a nightmare for Netanya, missing three golden opportunities to put his team 2-0 up within 10 minutes.
With a quarter of an hour left to play, Shechter very nearly scored, in a moment reminiscent of Geoff Hurst's third goal for England in the 1966 World Cup final when his shot thundered against the inside of the bar and bounced down on to the goal line.
Television replays were inconclusive but referee Chaim Moshe was sure the ball did not cross the line and the score remained 1-0.
Idan Vered had the visiting side's best chance of scoring in the second half a minute before the final whistle.
The young striker raced on to a Michael Zandberg pass but agonizing sent his shot wide of Liran Strauber's left hand post.
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