Maccabi Tel Aviv and captain Shiran Yeini 370.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
The wait was excruciating, but after 10 years Maccabi Tel Aviv is the Premier
League champion once again.
The most illustrious club in Israeli soccer
history enjoyed little success over recent years, but Monday’s 2-0 victory over
Hapoel Ramat Hasharon at National Stadium in Ramat Gan gave Maccabi an
unassailable 13-point gap over Maccabi Haifa at the top of the table, securing
the yellow-and-blue a record 20th championship.
Dor Micha handed Maccabi
the lead after 19 minutes and Rade Prica doubled the advantage 12 minutes from
time to ensure that nothing would deny Tel Aviv just its second league title
“I’m so proud,” said Maccabi owner Mitch Goldhar. “So many
people made this possible. We’ve gone through a lot to get here. This is just
the fourth year of a process. Things take time and we are taking one step at a
time. You are starting to see some of the results of the
Maccabi coach Oscar Garcia finally dropped his cool demeanor
and celebrated with his players.
“We knew the history was not favorable
for Maccabi in terms of winning the league, but we worked hard and that’s the
first thing you have to do,” said Oscar. “The main thing is we’ve shown a lot of
stability on and off the pitch.”
Maccabi entered Monday’s encounter as a
huge favorite, with Ramat Hasharon losing its previous five matches by a
combined goal difference of 0-12.
The match, which was moved to the
National Stadium due to police concerns that it would be dangerous to play the
game at Ramat Hasharon’s small ground, developed exactly as expected, with only
a sensational save by Ramat Hasharon goalkeeper Kfir Leibowitz denying Maccabi’s
Micha the opener after 13 minutes.
However, Leibowitz would gift Tel Aviv
the lead six minutes later, with the ‘keeper coming out for a corner but
completely missing the ball, allowing Micha to fire into the back of an empty
net from 20 meters out after Prica’s header was cleared off the
line.Maccabi shifted down a gear
after going ahead and Ramat Hasharon had
its chances to equalize, none better than the one squandered by substitute
Adrian Fernandez two minutes into the second half, with the Argentinian striker
firing straight at Vincent Enyeama with only the ‘keeper to beat.
Aviv rarely threatened the Ramat Hasharon goal in the second half, but it made
it 2-0 and clinched the win in the 78th minute.
Prica, who made an
invaluable contribution to Maccabi’s campaign despite only joining in January,
saw his shot fly into the back of the net thanks to a fortuitous deflection off
Asael Ben-Shabat, sparking delirium among Maccabi fans and a sleepless night of
celebrations for the yellow-and-blue.