betar maccabi haifa .
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
The match billed as the game of the Premier League season ended in stalemate as Betar Jerusalem and Maccabi Haifa battled to a 1-1 draw at a packed Teddy Stadium on Sunday night.
The game appeared to be going Haifa's way for the first 60 minutes when Israeli international Roberto Colautti fired the visitors ahead from outside the box after just four minutes.
But Betar's talismanic midfielder, Gal Alberman, equalized for the hosts at short range on the hour mark and neither team was able to take the lead in the final 30 minutes.
The result will buoy Betar's fervent supporters, who have been dreaming of taking the Premier League title from three-time defending champion Haifa.
"I am very satisfied with the result of this game," said Betar coach Yossi Mizrahi.
Betar stretched its lead at the top of the standings to four points over Maccabi Tel Aviv, and Haifa's disappointing domestic season continued with the greens remaining in the bottom half of the league.
Haifa's Brazilian star, Gustavo Boccoli, shined for the visiting team, consistently making clever dribbles which caused problems for Betar throughout the game.
For Betar, it was goalscorer Alberman who made the biggest impact, remaining one of the most consistent players on the Jerusalem team with his no-nonsense tackling and well-timed passes.
Former Haifa players Michael Zandberg and Arik Benado both had good games for the yellow-and-black, with Zandberg in particular coming to life as Betar regained its momentum in the second period.
From the kickoff, it was Betar that began the strongest, clearly showing it was up for a tough game, biting at the heels of the Maccabi players whenever the opposition had possession.
But the Colautti goal knocked the home side's confidence for the rest of the first period. After starting well, Betar's Chilean midfielder, Milovan Mirosovic, gave the ball away inside his half and Colautti took full advantage, firing a powerful shot from 20 meters out that stunned Betar 'keeper Kornfein, who appeared to make no attempt to save it.
Betar came straight back on the counterattack with Brazilian Joano Pinto just centimeters away from heading in an Amit Ben-Shushan cross.
Two minutes later, Boccoli nearly made it two with a strong speculative effort from outside the area.
Betar seemed to be in disarray, unable to stop the waves of Haifa attacks. Boccoli was dribbling through the Betar midfield with ease at any opportunity.
On 19 minutes, it was clear the luck was turning against Betar when the yellow-and-black had a certain penalty appeal turned away by referee Asaf Keinan when Omri Afek was fouled in the Haifa penalty area by Adoram Keisi.
Two minutes later, Haifa's Dekel Keinen was lucky to be given only a yellow card for fouling Pinto on the edge of the box. Mirosivic came close to making amends for his early mistake from the resulting free kick but it brought a quality save from Haifa 'keeper Nir Davidovitch. The first half continued to see Betar frustrated and the home side went in at halftime 1-0 down.
Betar started the second half stronger and a nice move saw Alberman with a free header that he fired against the post. Less than a minute later, a shot from Zandberg was saved by Davidovitch and Ben-Shushan missed the rebound.
Haifa's Xavier Anderson missed a golden opportunity to put the visitors 2-0 up when Boccoli made another of his trademark runs only to see his cross pushed aside by his fellow Brazilian teammate.
Then suddenly Betar was level. Omri Afek, who up until then was having a terrible game, finally put in a good cross from the right wing and it was turned in with style by Alberman.
The goal raised the spirits of the crowd and the team and Betar was clearly on top, searching for another goal.
Betar coach Yossi Mizrahi brought on Argentinian Christian Fabiani and Israelis Aviram Bruchian and Toto Tamuz, but none of the substitutions were able to break the Haifa defense.