Maccabi Tel Aviv is the champion of Israeli soccer once again as Vladimir Ivic’s side captured its second Premier League title in as many years after defeating Hapoel Tel Aviv 3-0 on Saturday night at Bloomfield Stadium.
The championship is the club’s 24th in the franchise’s history and fifth in eight years under Canadian owner Mitch Goldhar.
After a goalless first half, Avi Rikan was pulled down in the box, giving Nick Blackman the chance to score via a penalty which he promptly did from 11 meters. Eitan Tibi added an insurance marker with a fantastic bicycle kick in the box off a Yonatan Cohen free kick, and Itay Shechter headed home the third goal in the 90th minute to begin the celebrations.
It was the yellow-and-blue’s second Tel Aviv derby win in as many weeks and the yellow-and-blue hasn’t lost to the Reds in league play since 2014.
Back-to-back championship-winning coach Ivic reflected on the title.
“I believe that we were the best team throughout the year and we played up until now 33 games and what we have done is amazing,” said the 43-year-old Serbian. “It’s not something you can do every year, but we have had two great seasons in a row. The players did a fantastic job and worked hard and that is why they achieved what they did today. It’s not easy to accomplish what we did in back to back years.”
Veteran central defender Tibi, 32, won his fifth title with Maccabi and his seventh league title overall, and he also commented about clinching the championship.
“It was great to get back on the field after being out for four months and also to score a goal. It was very exciting and emotional for me. I want to dedicate the goal to my father, who recently passed away. I know he is watching from above.”
Striker Shechter, 33, was very emotional when asked about winning the league title and when he felt that the team would be able to go all the way for a second season in a row.
“We have a great group of guys here with a ton of character who play from the first minute until the last just as in the match of the season at Maccabi Haifa when we scored the winner in the 94th minute.”
Goalkeeper Daniel Tenenbaum, who made aliyah from Brazil a few years ago, is on the short-list for player of the season.
“This is very exciting,” exclaimed the 26-year-old shot-stopper. “I work so hard in practice, I’m just so happy. Do I deserve to be the player of the year? That is for the fans and journalists to decide, I just know that we won the title and that is what is important.”
In other action, Maccabi Haifa slipped by Hapoel Beersheba 2-1 at Sammy Ofer Stadium.
Nikita Rukavytsya added to his league-leading goal total with his 20th strike just 12 minutes into the game to give the Greens a 1-0 advantage. Five minutes later things went from bad to worse for Beersheba when Oren Bitton was issued a red card after a second yellow for a reckless tackle leaving the southern squad with just 10 men for the balance of the match.
Ben Sahar drew the Reds even in the 48th minute, but Sinteyahu Sallalich headed home a Sun Menachem free kick 13 minutes later to give Haifa the three points.
“We didn’t begin the playoffs well,” explained Haifa coach Marko Balbul. “However, we have 69 points and have scored the most goals in the league. We also have improved, were able to sign some great foreign players and have some young players advance to the Israel National Team. I want to congratulate Maccabi Tel Aviv, which had a terrific season and has only allowed eight goals all year.”
Elsewhere, Hapoel Hadera and Hapoel Ra’anana played to an entertaining 2-2 draw at the Netanya Stadium.
Lucio opened the scoring in the fourth minute to give Hadera the lead, but Or Dasa tied the game up 10 minutes later for Ra’anana. Menashe Zalka helped Hadera retake the lead in the 27th minute, but Eugene Ansah found the equalizer in the second half to help Ra’anana split the points.