Israeli soccer championship and relegation playoffs start

Maccabi Haifa remains in pole position • Beersheba cools off Netanya • Sakhnin holds Mac TA

 HAPOEL HAIFA (in red) and Beitar Jerusalem (in blue) played to a 1-1 draw on Sunday night at Sammy Ofer Stadium in both sides’ opening relegation-battle duel. (photo credit: BERNEY ARDOV)
HAPOEL HAIFA (in red) and Beitar Jerusalem (in blue) played to a 1-1 draw on Sunday night at Sammy Ofer Stadium in both sides’ opening relegation-battle duel.
(photo credit: BERNEY ARDOV)

Maccabi Haifa downed Hapoel Tel Aviv 3-0 in Israel Premier League action as the Greens scored a pair of first-half goals to cruise to the win just ahead of the international break.

Dean David gave Barak Bachar’s squad a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute while Dolev Haziza doubled the advantage soon thereafter. Mahmmoud Jaber polished off the win with a wide-open goal of his own from inside the box in the 90th minute to help Haifa take the three points.

“It’s always good to begin the playoffs on the right foot and this was a tough game but we won and that is what was most important,” Bachar said. “We scored two early goals which gave us a chance to relax and we will go into the international break in good shape. We were under pressure, but we did what we needed to do.”

Hapoel coach Kobi Refuah voiced his frustrations after the contest.

“I’m disappointed and you could see that the inexperience of some of our players really showed in this game,” said Refuah. “We went down early and it was a tough game but we will play hard in these playoffs to try and take fourth place. We had a number of good chances but we just couldn’t score.”

 Soccer Football - World Cup - UEFA Qualifiers - Group F - Israel v Austria - Sammy Ofer Stadium, Haifa, Israel - September 4, 2021 Israel's Shon Weissman celebrates scoring their fourth goal with teammates. (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS) Soccer Football - World Cup - UEFA Qualifiers - Group F - Israel v Austria - Sammy Ofer Stadium, Haifa, Israel - September 4, 2021 Israel's Shon Weissman celebrates scoring their fourth goal with teammates. (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

Meanwhile, Hapoel Beersheba defeated Maccabi Netanya 4-1 as the southern Reds scored a pair of late goals to seal the tough home victory.

Andre Martins opened the scoring in the 11th minute as his right-footed low shot made its way past Dani Amos and into the left corner of his goal. Just ahead of the break, Beersheba’s Tomer Yosefi raced down the left flank and his cross went off of Omri Gendelman into his own goal for a 2-0 advantage.

Patrick Twumasi pulled Netanya to within a goal early in the second half with a magnificent free kick, but an 82nd-minute red card to Plamen Galabov left Benny Lam’s squad down to 10 men. Soon thereafter, Danilo Asprilla and Roi Gordana each found the back of the goal to wrap up the comfortable win.

“We played against a team that hadn’t lost in 14 games and I am very happy for the guys that we began the championship playoffs with a win” Beersheba coach Ronny Levy noted. “We could have played better, especially with more intensity in the second half. I am not looking at any other teams and just at my own and as to our success.”

Lam put his team’s loss into perspective.

“It was tough to give up those last two goals,” said the Netanya coach. “I am proud of the guys and we played hard and gave Beersheba issues. We knew that we would finally lose a game, but we played a terrific game. We were issued a red card which was a problem but we will always play soccer no matter where and when.”

Also, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Bnei Sakhnin played to a goalless draw to begin the Championship Playoffs as the more than 20,000 fans in attendance left Bloomfield Stadium disappointed as the two squads split the points.

“We expected a tough game,” Maccabi coach Mladen Krstajic began. “We knew that they would come in and just play defensively and not play soccer. I can’t say anything negative about my players as they did everything to score and needed to do more in the final third of the field.”

Sakhnin coach Haim Silvas was proud of his side.

“This wasn’t really a 0-0 game as both sides had chances,” he said. “Our game plan worked to perfection and we had set up our substitutes to the way we wanted to play this contest. We may have been able to play a little bit more open, but all in all I am happy with the point.”

By the Carmel Mountain, Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Haifa played to a 1-1 draw at Sammy Ofer Stadium.

Tamir Adi scored a 12th-minute penalty for the capital city squad, but Alen Ozbolt scored in the second half for the Reds to split the points up north.

“When you can’t score that second gap, you keep the opposition alive,” Beitar coach Yossi Abukasis said following the game. “We needed to finish off the game in the first half when we were playing really well. But we could have lost this game after we lost our forwards to injury and fatigue.”

Down south, Ashdod SC blanked Hapoel Nof Hagalil 2-0 with a pair of late goals to take the three points and begin the relegation playoffs on the right foot.

After a scoreless first half, Muhammed Kna’an broke the ice with a 76th-minute goal which was followed up five minutes later with a terrific strike by Kenny Saief as he stole the ball at midfield and went in all alone on ’keeper Stefan Marinovic to wrap up the victory.

“I’m happy with the result as they has been a tough period for us,” winning coach Ran Ben Shimon explained. “Things weren’t going well but we were able to find a way to win the game with a good second half. We are always trying to find the right balance as we want to play well defensively but also score goals.”

Also, Ironi Kiryat Shmona and Maccabi Petah Tikva drew 1-1 in the northern capital to split the points.

Ido Shachar slotted home a 45th-minute penalty after Lameck Banda was taken down in the box to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at the break.

However, Itamar Shviro took a Roie Kehat ball and put it behind Petach Tikva ’keeper Arik Yanko to hand a point apiece to each side.

“We had enough chances in the first half in what was an open game that both teams wanted to win,” Petah Tikva coach Nir Klinger explained. “We scored a penalty and things were going our way but we missed out on taking a two-goal lead and when you are battling against relegation, the pressure plays a role and we gave up the lead.”

“We are playing for every point and while we feel good about our situation we still have goals that we want to reach,” countered Kiryat Shmona coach Slobodan Drapic. “We want to play positive soccer and not take our foot off of the gas.”