maccabi haifa 88.
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After suffering a shocking midweek State Cup loss to third division Hapoel Ramat Gan, Maccabi Haifa finds itself in real danger of missing out on European qualification for the first time in eight years.
Haifa, which has won four of its last five league matches, hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva on Saturday knowing that a win is essential if it is to grab second or third position in the standings and guarantee itself a place in next season's UEFA Cup.
"The loss to Hapoel Ramat Gan was very painful, but the players need to gather themselves," coach Roni Levy said on Thursday. "We've been playing well in the league and I hope we return to winning ways against Maccabi Petah Tikva."
Petah Tikva, which was also knocked out of the cup on Tuesday, trails Haifa by just three points and still has an outside chance of snatching a European place with a win at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
Second-placed Maccabi Tel Aviv, which has a five-point cushion over Haifa, hosts the red hot Maccabi Herzliya on Saturday.
Tel Aviv has suffered from indifferent form recently, losing two of its last four matches after being unbeaten in its previous 20 league games.
Should Maccabi fail to claim all three points on Saturday, league leader Betar Jerusalem will be able to clinch the title with a victory over Hapoel Petah Tikva at Teddy Stadium on Sunday night.
Despite its lowly position, Herzliya is only second to Betar in goals scored this season (43) and has won four of its last five matches. The team has scored four or more goals in three of its last five games and needs just six points from its remaining four matches to ensure another season in the Premier League.
Hapoel Tel Aviv, which lost 4-1 to Herzliya last week, will be seeking its first league win in almost two months when it hosts Hakoah Amidar Ramat Gan on Saturday. Despite an impressive performance against Betar last weekend, Hakoah hasn't won in its last six outings and will be as good as relegated if it fails to record a victory on Saturday.
Maccabi Netanya's last three matches have ended in goalless draws, but on Saturday it must defeat Bnei Yehuda to keep in touch with the top of the table.
Bnei Yehuda took a significant step towards another season of Premier League soccer last week by defeating Maccabi Tel Aviv 3-2 and for the first time in months will be entering a league encounter relaxed.
Ashdod SC, which faces Hapoel Tel Aviv in the State Cup semifinal on Wednesday, hosts Hapoel Kfar Saba in Saturday's fifth and final match.