Shimon Abu Hazeira from Ironi Kiryat Shmona 370.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
The Premier League enters its final stretch this weekend as the championship and
relegation playoffs get underway.
After 30 matches and two rounds of
play, the league has been split into two sections of eight teams each, with
every side to play seven more games against the other teams in its half of the
While Ironi Kiryat Shmona can already clinch an historic
championship on Monday with still six matches to spare, the battle against
relegation and the fight for European qualification looks set to go down to the
Only four points separate Betar Jerusalem in 11th place and Maccabi
Petah Tikva in 14th position, which will lead to demotion to the National League
at the end of the season.
Betar can open a significant seven-point gap
from the relegation zone with a win over Petah Tikva on Sunday.
before the two face off in Ramat Gan due to an Israel Football Association
disciplinary court punishment leveled at Jerusalem, they will be crossing their
fingers for a draw in Saturday’s showdown between Hapoel Haifa and Hapoel
Beersheba, which are tied on 32 points in 12th and 13th places,
A stoppage-time goal by Maccabi Haifa’s Danijel Cesarec
cost Hapoel Haifa a prestigious derby triumph as well as a fourth win in five
matches last Saturday, while Beersheba beat Hapoel Rishon Lezion last week for
its third win in four games, all by a 2-1 score line.
“These are the
moments which a footballer lives for,” Haifa coach Tal Banin said. “The players
understand the team’s situation and they are very focused, which gives me a lot
“We hope that in 3-4 matches the battle against relegation
will be behind us.”
Rishon’s hopes of survival suffered a crushing blow
with last week’s defeat in Beersheba, and with safety five points away, Eyal
Lachman’s men know a road win at Hapoel Ramat Hasharon on Saturday is a
Also in the relegation playoffs, Hapoel Acre hosts Hapoel Petah
Elsewhere Saturday, Hapoel Tel Aviv will look to avenge its recent
derby defeat to Maccabi Tel Aviv in front of empty stands at Bloomfield
Maccabi ended a four-year drought without a league derby victory
with a 1-0 win two-and-a-half weeks ago, a triumph marred by violent scenes
courtesy of Hapoel fans.
As a result, Hapoel was deducted three points
and sentenced to host three matches in front of empty stands, the second of
which will be served on Saturday.
Hapoel coach Nitzan Shirazi has done an
admirable job since the derby debacle, guiding the team to a 4-1 road win at
Maccabi Haifa and a 2-2 home draw with Kiryat Shmona before leading the Reds to
the State Cup quarterfinals with a 3-1 extra-time victory over Bnei Lod on
A Hapoel failure to win on Saturday combined with a Kiryat
Shmona victory against Bnei Yehuda on Monday will officially see the northerners
clinch their first-ever league title.
Only six points separate
second-placed Hapoel and Bnei Yehuda in eighth, meaning every match in the
championship playoffs carries numerous implications in the fight for a Europa
League berth next season to be awarded to the teams finishing in second and
third place, and possibly also fourth, should one of the top three win the
Netanya, which advanced to the cup quarterfinals with a 2-1 win at
Kiryat Shmona on Wednesday, visits fourth-placed Ashdod SC, with which it is
tied on 47 points, while Bnei Sakhnin, which is in third place, also on 47
points, hosts Maccabi Haifa.