There were tears of joy at Teddy Stadium on Saturday night where Hapoel Tel Aviv completed the league and cup double in a quite incredible last day of the season.
The Reds beat Betar 2-1 courtesy of Eran Zehavi’s goal two minutes into stoppage time, while Maccabi Haifa, the clear favorite to retain the title going into the final day, could only manage a 1-1 draw against Bnei Yehuda, ultimately losing out to Hapoel in the title race on goal difference.
A tearful Hapoel coach Eli Gutman could hardly believe the "enormous" achievement, thanking God, his “praying wife” and the fans, before hailing his players with the accolade of “What a team!”
Haifa coach Elisha Levy, meanwhile, said that without a doubt conceding the title was “very difficult to take.”
In the other top-six playoff match, goals by Maor Buzaglo (5) and Emmanuel Mayuka (54) gave Maccabi Tel Aviv a 2-0 win against Ashdod and sealed a place in the UEFA Europa League qualifiers for Avi Nimni’s men.
In the relegation playoffs, Hapoel Ra’anana joined Ahi Nazareth back down to the National League after a goalless draw at Hapoel Petah Tikva, which sealed another year in the top flight.
Meanwhile, Acre might have left it late, but Yaron Hochenboim’s boys eventually ensured their top-flight survival with a 90th-minute strike by Jonathan Tennenbaum - ironically a year after the defender’s goal secured promotion for his former side Hapoel Ra’anana.
In the final bottom-six game, even a 7-0 walloping of Nazareth couldn’t keep Hapoel Ramat Gan from having to play a two-legged relegation playoff against the National League’s third-placed side Hapoel Kfar Saba. George Daturu (24) and Golan Hermon (41) put the visitors two-up at half-time, but Nazareth totally fell apart after the break. A Serge Ayeli penalty (48), a Mohammad Amariya own-goal (62), Hermon (69), Matan Lutati, and an absolute stunner from Calos Chacana did the second-half damage.Betar Jerusalem 1, Hapoel Tel Aviv 2
Hapoel made a sensational start to the match, taking the lead as early as the third minute. Gal Shish whipped in rather a hopeful cross, but Betar’s Idan Tal dreadfully chested the ball right into the path of Gili Vermut, who fired under Ariel Harush for his ninth goal of the season.
However, Gutman’s men shot themselves in the foot just before the half-hour when Omri Canada got himself foolishly sent off for barging into Eliran Danin, although it has to be said the Betar full-back made rather a meal out of the push.
And just to make matters worse, Betar equalized on stroke of half-time.
Barak Itzhaki collected a pass from Kobi Moyal, strode forward with purpose and unleashed a belter which clipped Walid Badier’s leg and bounced in off the underside of the bar.
Itai Shechter was brought down by Tomer Ben-Yosef in the box ten minutes after the break to give Hapoel a great chance to take the lead. Ben-Yosef was dismissed for a professional foul, but Hapoel ‘keeper Vincent Enyeama, so reliable from the spot this season, blazed the penalty over the bar.
Hapoel piled on the pressure and was rewarded right at the death. After a frantic goalmouth scramble, Vermut found some space at the edge of the box and curled an effort at goal. Harush made a smart save, but Zehavi reacted quickest, firing home what proved to be the championship winning goal to send the visiting fans wild.
And just to sum up what has been a tumultuous season for Izhaki and Betar, the striker was sent off at the final whistle for lashing out at Zehavi.
Bnei Yehuda 1, Maccabi Haifa 1.
Dekel Keinan must be eating his words, if he’s not burying his head in the sand. After his winner against Betar last week put Maccabi Haifa firmly in the driving seat for the title, he said the reigning champions would be the “biggest suckers in Israeli soccer history” should they blow it.
And alas, despite dominating possession against Bnei Yehuda, the Greens lacked inventiveness and found beating ‘keeper Ran Kadosh a much tougher proposition than they had perhaps expected.
The visitors should have broken the deadlock midway through the first-half. Shlomi Arbeitman headed Ali Ottman’s cross down to Lior Rafaleov, but the Haifa midfielder was thwarted by the brave Kadosh, who moments later saved with his legs from Shlomi Arbeitman.
Kadosh dived full stretch to save Vladimir Dvalishvili’s header at the start of the second period, but Liroy Tzairi then stunned Haifa by heading in Assi Baldout’s cross in the 51st minute.
With 15 minutes to go, Dekel Keinan rose majestically to head down an Ottman cross, and Teixeira slotted it in from close range to put Haifa level.
Kadosh then tipped out Eyal Golasa’s sizzler as Haifa went for the
winner, while Dvalishvili shot over with the goal at his mercy after
some great wing play by substitute Sintau Saleli.
couldn’t find that all-important second goal, and was fortunate not have
lost the game at the death when Keinan got in a last-ditch block to
deny Oz Rali.Saturday’s results:Top-six
playoffs: Maccabi Tel Aviv 2, Ashdod SC 0; Betar Jerusalem 1, Hapoel
Tel Aviv 2; Bnei Yehuda 1, Maccabi Haifa 1.
Hapoel Petah Tikva 0, Hapoel Ra’anana 0; Hapoel Acre 1, Hapoel Haifa 0;
Ahi Nazareth 0; Hapoel Ramat Gan 6.