Maccabi Haifa was crowned Israeli Premier League champion on Tuesday night despite falling to Maccabi Tel Aviv 3-1, as second-place Hapoel Beersheba lost to Hapoel Tel Aviv to hand the Greens their second title in a row.
Barak Bachar’s squad was serenaded by the Haifa faithful at Sammy Ofer Stadium as the fans sang to their hearts delight in tribute to their heroes, who have dominated the league with consistent play since last August.
The Greens are now in front of Beersheba by six points with two games remaining, but hold an insurmountable 24-goal difference that will be too much to overcome over the upcoming pair of final contests.
By winning the annual competition, Haifa will be able to participate in UEFA Champions League qualification this coming summer as it will attempt to qualify for the prestigious tournament for the first time in over a decade.
“It’s a bit of a weird feeling,” Bachar began after capturing the title. “At the end of the day we deserved to win the championship. We haven’t been playing well of late, but ultimately we have to give credit to the entire club, the players and staff for a long and tough season. Hopefully we can get back on track as we have the State Cup still to come. We are the rightful champions.
“Right now we will celebrate and enjoy after a season that began so early and will end so late. We have a tough clash coming up in the cup final and we will have to be ready for that as it’s a one-game winner-take-all which is not connected to the league whatsoever. We have to pick ourselves up and make sure that we are ready to get the job done.”
Haifa controlled the pace of play early against Maccabi Tel Aviv, but Stipe Perica headed home an Eylon Almog cross to give the yellow-and-blue a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute.
Tjaron Chery found the equalizer from 20 meters out in the 63rd minute to draw the Greens even, but Djorde Jovanovic scored from the penalty spot and starlet Oscar Gloch converted an Avi Rikan through-ball to polish off the two-goal victory.
“I believe that we deserved to win this game,” yellow-and-blue coach Mladen Krstajic said following the game. “We played better in many parameters and I want to congratulate my players, but also Haifa for winning the championship.”
Haifa midfielder Dolev Haziza also spoke about the game and winning the league title.
“It’s a bit disappointing to lose and maybe if we would have scored first we could have scored a few goals. This is my second league championship with this huge club. If someone told me this would be the same outcome next season, I’d sign for it right now.”
Elsewhere, Hapoel Tel Aviv defeated Hapoel Beersheba 2-1, ending the Southern Reds title hopes as they will now prepare for the State Cup final against Maccabi Haifa in two weeks.
After a goalless first half, midfielder Shlomi Azulay broke the ice to give Tel Aviv a 1-0 lead in the 49th minute.
Things went from bad to worse for Elyaniv Barda’s squad when Mariano Barreira was sent off for a foul on Marko Jankovic just two minutes later to reduce Beersheba to 10 men for the balance of the game.
However, Eugene Ansah was pulled down by Doron Lidner in the box, handing Ramzi Safuri a penalty kick that he promptly scored to draw Beersheba even.
But Lidner made up for the gaffe by sending Liad Ramot on his way to score the winner in the 88th minute to give Tel Aviv the points and the win.
“After our last three games, it was difficult to get back into the swing of things but the best medicine was a big win,” Tel Aviv coach Kobi Refuah explained. “We needed to play a bit more intelligently against a 10-man Beersheba team, but I’m happy that we won after a few tough weeks.”
“We dominated play in the first half, but we couldn’t take advantage of the situation to score,” said Beersheba coach Elyaniv Barda said. “We took a chance to play attacking football despite picking up a red card. We need to improve our play overall.”
Meanwhile, Maccabi Netanya blanked Bnei Sakhnin 3-0 as the diamond city squad continued to battle for a UEFA Conference League qualifying spot.
Patrick Twumasi found the back of the goal thanks to a stalker free-kick at the stroke of halftime to give Benny Lam’s team a 1-0 lead.
Boris Enow doubled the advantage in the 66th minute, while Amir Berkovits scored the third deep into second-half stoppage time to take the win.
“The players really did a great job,” said Netanya coach Benny Lam. “They wanted the win and they were very sharp. I told them that we had to win because it was going to be us or them who will get the last qualifying spot. I’m happy that we won, but we have to remember that we still have some very tough games and nothing is over just yet.”