The Premier League title race may have already been decided, but the battle
against relegation will come down to the final seconds of the 2010/11 season on
After clinching its seventh championship in 11 years with a 2-0
victory over Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Monday, Maccabi Haifa has already turned its
focus to next Wednesday’s State Cup final, where it will look to overcome last
year’s champion Hapoel Tel Aviv and secure a first league and cup double in 20
While the only significant matter remaining to be determined in
the championship playoffs is whether Bnei Yehuda or Maccabi Netanya will finish
in fourth place and book a Europa League berth for next season, the fight for
top-flight survival is still wide open.
Bnei Sakhnin, currently in 13th
place with 20 points and a -20 goal difference, is in the enviable position of
having its fate in its own hands, but Hapoel Petah Tikva (19, -19) and Hapoel
Ashkelon (19, -30), who faceoff on Saturday, both also still have everything to
play for entering the final weekend of the season.
Sakhnin hosts Betar
Jerusalem on Saturday knowing a victory will secure it a sixth straight season
of Premier League soccer.
Since Shlomi Dora became Sakhnin’s fourth coach
of the season at the start of April, the team has lost just once in six matches,
climbing out of the relegation zone with a 2-1 win over Hapoel Ramat Gan last
Around 6,000 fans are expected at the Doha Stadium for what under
normal circumstances is a very-heated affair between two of the most bitter
rivals in Israeli soccer.
“We have two options,” Dora told his players
ahead of Saturday’s crunch match.
“Either we get the job done and on
Sunday we can go to the beach, or we fail and on Sunday we come back for a
training session. You will decide which it will be. If you show determination
you will take the points.”
A Sakhnin loss will see it fall one place to
14th position, which would lead to a two-legged relegation playoff tie against
the team that finishes third in the National League.
One point will be
enough to leave Sakhnin in 13th should Petah Tikva and Ashkelon draw on
Saturday, but Dora does not want to depend on other results and has no intention
of settling for anything less than the three points against Betar.
Sakhnin has the advantage of facing a team which has nothing to play for but
pride, Petah Tikva and Ashkelon will battle each other in a direct showdown for
Anything but a home win for Ashkelon will see the team
relegated to the second division after just one season.
A 90th minute
goal by Shay Biruk secured Ashkelon a 1-0 victory against Betar at Teddy Stadium
last week, giving the team its first winning streak of the
Ashkelon Coach Eli Mahpud, who spent his entire 24-year playing
career at Petah Tikva and began this season as the team’s coach before being
sacked in October, knows there will be no turning back for his side should it
fail to win on Saturday.
“I have experience in these situations and if
you listen to me you will be fine,” Mahpud told his players. “We need to win the
match, but we can’t afford to lose our head in defense. We have shown
improvement in our last two matches and if we continue this we will be able to
smile at the end of the encounter.”
Petah Tikva has picked up just one
point in two matches since Gili Landau took charge, but as long as it avoids a
defeat on Saturday it will at least have a playoff tie to look forward
“We are facing a battle for life or death,” Landau said. “It is no
secret that Ashkelon has improved in recent weeks, but I hope our improvement
comes on Saturday. We believe we can win and I’m also hoping for a positive
result for us in Sakhnin which will already guarantee our survival on
Also Saturday, Ashdod SC, which is still mathematically not
safe, hosts rockbottom Hapoel Ramat Gan, knowing even a narrow defeat will
likely secure it another season in the Premier League.
championship playoffs, Bnei Yehuda welcomes Maccabi Haifa to Bloomfield Stadium,
needing one point to officially book a Europa League place for next
Maccabi Netanya, which trails Bnei Yehuda by three points and
five goals, visits Maccabi Tel Aviv, while Hapoel Tel Aviv travels up north to
face Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
In the National League, which draws to a close
on Friday, Hapoel Kfar Saba will hope to join Ironi Ramat Hasharon in automatic
promotion to the topflight with a win at Hapoel Ra’anana.
A Kfar Saba
slip-up will open the door for Hapoel Rishon Lezion, which hosts Ramat Hasharon,
and Maccabi Herzliya, which welcomes Ness Ziona.
Rishon is two points
behind Kfar Saba, but has a superior goal difference to Tomer Kashtan’s team,
which led the standings for most of the season, while Herzliya is a point
“The team with the most wins in the league deserves to be
promoted and I'm certain that justice will be done,” said Kashtan, whose side is
desperate to avoid missing out on a place in the Premier League in the last
weekend of the season for a second straight year.