Betar Jlem Mac Haifa 224.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa played some of its best soccer of the season at Kiryat Eliezer on Sunday night, but came up short in a scoreless draw against a resilient Betar Jerusalem.
Man of the match Gustavo Boccoli knows he should have done better when he won a penalty for the home side five minutes before half time. But the experienced Brazilian could only poke the ball wide of Betar goalkeeper Trvtko Kale's goal.
It was telling that Jerusalem's stand out player was a defender - center back Arik Benado. The former Haifa legend was first to every ball, showing all his knowledge to help his team break from the back on the counterattack time after time.
Benado even showed his attacking skills in one opportune second half moment of brilliance, when he dribbled all the way into the opposition's penalty area before the ball was cleared at the last minute.
Idan Tal again looked like a shadow of his former self in his first return to Haifa since joining the league champion in the summer from Bolton Wanderers. All too often Tal produced wayward passes, seemingly affected by the booing from the home crowd that came with his every touch.
With the stadium packed full of 15,000 people, including some 2,500 Betar fans, there was an electric atmosphere all through the game, until the last few minutes, when the supporters realized the encounter was destined to end in a stalemate.
The Betar team was resplendent in an all-white away uniform while Maccabi looked focused and imposing all in black.
Haifa began the game at a fervent pace, surging forward and putting pressure on the Jerusalem defense from the start.
It was difficult for the Betar players to get a foothold on possession. They were always harried by the home team's midfield, who were fighting for every ball as if their life depended on it, with Brazilian Paulinho making his presence felt.
Eyal Meshumar had a great chance to put Haifa ahead in the ninth minute, when the ball ping-ponged inside the box and he shot from six meters out, but Kale managed to keep the ball out of the net.
Three minutes later Boccoli dribbled through the Betar defense, but his effort went well wide of the right hand post.
After surviving massive pressure from Maccabi Tel Aviv last weekend, Betar was again under the cosh, facing its most difficult test of the season.
The visitors first shot came from Michael Zandberg, but it was a weak effort.
Barak Itzahki then broke through on goal with only Haifa 'keeper Nir Davidovitch to beat, but just couldn't get that crucial final touch.
Gal Alberman fired a near unstoppable shot from outside the area on 25 minutes, but it flew wide.
Despite their team controlling the game, the home crowd became restless with the score at 0-0 after 35 minutes.
The missed penalty did little to calm their nerves.
The second half saw more of the same. Betar was happy to sit back and break on the counterattack.
Roni levy brought on former Betar midfielder Omri Afek for Paulinho after five minutes of the new half, however he could not make the difference.
Boccoli appeared to have broken the deadlock with 10 minutes of the second period gone. He headed into an empty net, but a foul had already been called on Dekel Keinan.
It was to be a move which summed up a match which promised much but left both sets of supporters with an empty feeling that more should have come out of it.