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Betar Jerusalem was frustrated after being held to a 0-0 draw by Maccabi Tel Aviv at Teddy Stadium on Sunday night in the final match of the Premier League's Matchday 12.
The team in yellow and black was clearly the stronger side and attempted to attack at every opportunity, encouraged by a capacity crowd. But Maccabi came to the capital with a clear game plan and its bunker-style tactics stifled the home team, leaving the game goalless.
Betar's Michael Zandberg and Derek Boateng controlled the midfield from the kickoff and young striker Toto Tamuz looked strong, but they were unable to break through and had to be satisfied with a single point.
The result pushed Betar back to the top of the table, but Yossi Mizrahi's team only leads his former club, Ashdod SC, by goal difference ahead of next week's match at Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Maccabi Tel Aviv remains in fourth place, three points off the top spot.
The game opened at a predictably fast pace, reflecting the cracking atmosphere among the packed Teddy crowd. After all the controversy over where the Maccabi fans would sit, the northern stands were packed with visiting supporters.
In a shock decision, Betar head coach Mizrahi again shuffled his pack, starting with Argentinian Christian Fabiani up front instead of Brazilian Joano Pinto.
Former Betar midfielder Avi Nimni had the first shot of the game, blasting the ball way over the crossbar from outside the area after three minutes.
The hosts replied with a counterattack which ended with a Fabiani shot easily held by Maccabi's Croatian goalkeeper, Tvrtko Kala.
As the game slowed down, Betar's Boateng, and Milovan Mirosevic won midfield battles against Maccabi's Nimni and Ivan Rasic.
Maccabi closed up shop and kept most of its men behind the ball in an attempt to slow the game down even further.
Betar carried out waves of attacks but couldn't score. In the 16th minute, Fabiani nearly put the hosts ahead with a stinging shot from close range from a corner which Kala just managed to pummel away. Thirty seconds later, Tamuz was through on goal on his own but his shot whistled wide of the Kala's left hand post.
The Maccabi defense was holding strong, with right back Avi Yehiel often getting the better of Zandberg. Soon Fabiani, who is rumored to be leaving Betar next month after being accused of being overweight, was incurring the wrath of the Betar faithful for his lack of movement.
The crowd became even more incensed when Mirosevic was clearly brought down in the box by Yuval Sprungin but referee Chaim Yaakov waved play on.
The yellow-and-black pushed on and came close again on the half-hour when Fabiani played Tamuz through down the center but the young international striker couldn't make it count.
And with 10 minutes left in the first half, a free kick on the edge of the area from Fabiani was heading goalward before Kala tipped it over the bar.
The second half began much as the first half ended - with Betar applying the pressure but unable get a final touch to guide the ball into the Maccabi net.
A minute into the second period, Zandberg came close from inside the six-meter box but couldn't score.
After 53 minutes, Gal Alberman should have scored with a header from a corner which went wide of the post.
Tamuz could not believe it in the 63rd minute when his header from a Mirosevic corner crashed against the crossbar. That was his last contribution as Mizrahi, in search of that elusive goal, made a double substitution, bringing on Pinto and Amit Ben-Shushan for Tamuz and Mirosevic.
The game continued to be nearly all Betar but the home side just couldn't break Maccabi's deadlock, even with the introduction of Omri Afek.
A Giovanni Rosso freekick on 81 minutes didn't come close to troubling Betar goalkeeper Itzik Kornfein and summed up the visitors' play.
Betar had a freekick on the edge of the box in injury time but Zandberg's cross failed to find the head of one of his teammates and the game ended in a stalemate.
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