Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Tel Aviv, the league

Greens, yellow-and-blue to duel for 1st place • Beitar blanked by Hapoel Haifa • Hadera blows out Ra’anana

HAPOEL HAIFA celebrates after beating Beitar Jerusalem 2-0 last night at Teddy Stadium in the capital in the final game of the weekend in Israel Premier League action (photo credit: DANNY MAARON)
HAPOEL HAIFA celebrates after beating Beitar Jerusalem 2-0 last night at Teddy Stadium in the capital in the final game of the weekend in Israel Premier League action
(photo credit: DANNY MAARON)
In Round 3 of the Israel Premier League, first-place Maccabi Haifa defeated Ironi Kiryat Shmona 2-0 at Sammy Ofer Stadium and has now captured seven out of a possible nine points to begin the season.
The last time the Greens took as many points to start a campaign was in 2010/11, the last time they were crowned champions.
After a goalless first half, Marko Balbul’s squad came out of the break on fire and scored a quick goal to take a 1-0 lead in the 49th minute when Yarden Shua launched a scorcher in the box towards the Kiryat Shmona ’keeper Dziugas Bartkus that striker Nikita Rukavytsya pounded home off a rebound.
Haifa added to its advantage in the 77th minute as Yuval Ashkenazi beat a diving Bartkus to wrap up the comfortable win.
“We played a bad first half, but we began to play quality football in the second half,” said Balbul. “We created chances, scored and pressed properly. We still have things to improve ahead of our big game next week at Maccabi Tel Aviv. We will prepare to play well at Bloomfield Stadium and our goal is to win the game.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv, meanwhile, slipped by Hapoel Kfar Saba 1-0 at the Moshava Stadium thanks to a first-half goal by Dor Micha off a perfect pass into the box by Chico Ofoedu.
The yellow-and-blue also now has seven points – having not yet conceded a goal, and trailing Haifa with less goals scored – as it prepares for an early-season showdown for the top spot vs the Greens.
Tel Aviv coach Vladimir Ivic spoke reservedly about his side’s performance following the contest.
“We weren’t as dominant in the second half as we were in the first and we need to look at this. But we controlled the game from start to finish and we look forward to next week’s match against Maccabi Haifa.”
On Monday night in the capital, Hapoel Haifa benefited from an own-goal by Beitar Jerusalem’s Shay Konstantini and got a second-half tally from Gidi Kanuk to come away with a 2-0 road victory at Teddy Stadium and move up to seven points, while keeping Beitar at one point from three games.
Elsewhere, Hapoel Hadera shocked Hapoel Ra’anana 4-0 as Lucio scored a pair of penalties to lead Ori Guttman’s side to the victory.
After beginning the season with a 1-1 draw against Ashdod SC and a 3-0 thumping at the hands Hapoel Beersheba, it looked as if Hadera wouldn’t sustain the success that it achieved last season. Menachem Koretzky’s Ra’anana was riding high after defeating Beitar Jerusalem in its previous game, but was brought back down to earth very quickly.
Ben Binyamin was pulled down in the box in the 41st minute and with the help of the VAR (video assistant referee) Liran Liani pointed to the spot and Lucio put the ball home to give the hosts a 1-0 lead just before halftime.
Eliel Peretz doubled the advantage in the 73rd minute when he sent the ball into the right corner of the goal, beating ’keeper Assaf Tzur.
Five minutes later Hagay Goldenberg found the back of the goal, and in the 86th minute Lucio scored his second penalty when Liani once again consulted with the VAR, which showed that Sagi Dror was taken down by Yarden Cohen.
“It’s great to win, especially in this fashion,” exclaimed Guttman following the game. “We will have a marathon of a season and I’m pleased that we took the points. When we took the lead, we knew how to also play defense and go on counter-attacks. All the credit has to go to the players.”
Koretzky was less than pleased with his team’s performance.
“Hadera deserved the win,” said an agitated Koretzky. “There was only one team on the field and they wanted to win much more than we did. We were unprepared and I have to take a look at where I also went wrong.”
Also, Ashdod and Beersheba drew 2-2 at the Yud Alef Stadium on Sunday night. The port city side surprised Barak Bachar’s team early with a second-minute goal by Timothy Awany off a smart corner by Shlomi Azulay, but Nigel Hasselbaink headed home the equalizer less than 20 minutes later.
Ben Sahar gave Beersheba a 2-1 advantage three minutes into the second half, but an active Azulay drew Ashdod even in the 52nd minute as he beat ’keeper Ohad Levita, who had come on as a substitute for Erestas Setkus due to an injury, as each club took a point.
Hapoel Tel Aviv and Ness Ziona drew 1-1 as the Reds continue to struggle, having not yet won an official game this season, placing coach Niso Avitan on the hot seat.
Hapoel grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 43rd minute as new recruit Stefan Spirovski assisted on Marvin Peersman’s strike, however the visitors found the equalizer in the 59the minute when Seaikou Touray beat Reds ’keeper Yoav Gerafi to close out the scoring as the teams split the points.
“This isn’t the result we had wanted especially after the first half,” said a disappointed Avitan. “It’s hard for me to explain what happened. We are under some pressure, but that’s the life at a team like Hapoel Tel Aviv and we have to be able to deal with it.”
Bnei Yehuda and Maccabi Netanya played to a goalless draw at Bloomfield Stadium as very few chances were created by either side.