ben sahar hapoel tel aviv_311.
(photo credit: (Asaf Kliger))
Hapoel Tel Aviv ended any doubt as to the identity of the best team in Israeli soccer on Sunday night, thrashing Maccabi Haifa 4-1 at Bloomfield Stadium to return to the top of the Premier League in emphatic fashion.
Haifa entered the showdown with a 14-match unbeaten streak, but simply had no answer for Hapoel’s superior play and suffered its second league defeat of the season, with the first also coming at the hands of the reigning champion.
Hapoel, which moved one point ahead of Haifa in the standings, hadn’t beaten the Greens at Bloomfield in three years, but it has now defeated its main title rival in three straight league encounters, and after edging Elisha Levy’s team to the championship last season, the Reds have now cemented their place as the firm favorites to defend their title.
“We never dreamed of claiming such a victory,” Ben Sahar said. “We began the match well and they came back, but we went on to show our character.”
Hapoel got off to a sensational start, with Sahar heading in the opener after just 49 seconds. It took Haifa over 20 minutes to recover from the shock of conceding such an early goal, but Levy’s men eventually found their rhythm and scored a deserved equalizer in the 50th minute through Mohammad Ghadir.
However, Mr. Clutch Eran Zahavi was on hand once more to score a crucial goal for his team with a beautiful free kick in the 64th minute and Toto Tamuz (75) and Salim Toama (90) clinched an unforgettable victory for Hapoel.
“I think we played well until Hapoel’s second goal,” Levy said. “We played the way we wanted to until that stage, but I don’t argue with the result. The difference was only in the last 15 minutes when we lost our patience and lost our ability to counterattack.”
The much-anticipated showdown got off to a stunning start.
Gili Vermut was given far too much space on the right flank and Sahar was at the right place at the right time to head Hapoel into the lead with the game not even one minute old.
The match continued to be played at a frantic pace in the subsequent minutes, but while Haifa’s surges forward rarely threatened Vincent Enyeama’s goal, Maccabi’s goalkeeper Nir Davidovich was being kept very busy.
Sahar should have doubled Hapoel’s lead in the fifth minute, but failed to control Zahavi’s through ball and moments later Davidovich had to throw himself at the striker’s feet to clear another dangerous opportunity.
Just one goal down, Haifa still had everything to play for and it began to stamp its authority on the game as the first half progressed.
Gustavo Boccoli came close with his shot from the edge of the area in the 37th minute and Enyeama had to be alert to collect Idan Vered’s effort four minutes later.
Haifa’s best chance to equalize in the first half came a minute before the interval. Enyeama had to leave his goal-line to close down Eyal Golasa and the midfielder picked out Tomer Hemed in the box, only for the striker’s attempt to be blocked by Danny Bondarv’s crucial intervention.
Haifa came out of the gates flying at the start of the second half and would score the equalizer five minutes after the break.
John Culma’s powerful header from Yaniv Katan’s corner was parried by Enyeama and Ghadir, who had come on as a substitute at halftime in place of Vered, was perfectly placed to tie the score from close range.
Haifa continued to control the possession, but Hapoel needed just one chance to regain the lead in the 64th minute.
Zahavi curled his free kick from the edge of the area to perfection and Davidovich had no chance.
The hosts clinched the win 11 minutes later.
After a nice team move, Shay Abutbul squared the ball for Tamuz and the
striker tucked in his 13th league goal of the season before substitute
Salim Toama clinched a well-earned victory in stoppage time with an
accurate shot from 20 meters out.