Beitar Jerusalem earns hard-fought triumph of Greens

Azulay’s second-half tally proves the winner for Jerusalem over Haifa in capital • Busy close to transfer window.

Beitar Jerusalem and Maccabi Haifa slug it out at Teddy Stadium. (photo credit: UZI GAL)
Beitar Jerusalem and Maccabi Haifa slug it out at Teddy Stadium.
(photo credit: UZI GAL)
Beitar Jerusalem proved on Monday that it will be a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League this season after defeating Maccabi Haifa 1-0 at Teddy Stadium.
Beitar was very close to defeating Hapoel Beersheba in its league opener on the road last week before eventually drawing 1-1 with last season’s runner-up.
Nevertheless, it showed plenty of promise in its first league match under new coach Menahem Koretzki and built on that display by recording its first win of the campaign thanks to Shlomi Azulay’s 56th-minute goal against one of the favorites to claim the league title this season.
“This was a very important match for my players, but I’m already thinking about our next match,” said Koretzki.
“We slowly seized control of the match and it was clear to me that we would score in the second half.”
Haifa had beaten Beitar in five of their past six encounters, but struggled at Teddy on Monday, leaving defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv as the only team with two wins after the first two matches of the season.
“It’s a very disappointing result,” said Haifa coach Aleksandar Stanojevic. “This was a big test for us and we need to work hard to try and change this situation.”
For the third straight season Haifa failed to make it two victories in a row to start the season, with the Greens not winning more than two of their first five matches over the last three campaigns.
Haifa was hoping to build on its momentum from its impressive 4-2 victory over Bnei Sakhnin in its first ever match at the new Sammy Ofer Stadium last week.
However, it had very little to offer on the offensive end, with Hen Ezra registering its first scoring opportunity in the 14th minute, firing wide after breaking into the center from the left flank.
Beitar was also far from impressive going forward, with the first shot on target by either team not arriving until Azulay’s shot was denied by Haifa goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic seven minutes from the break.
After successfully containing Haifa in the first half, Jerusalem felt more comfortable venturing forward after the interval and it wouldn’t be long before its pressure bore fruit.
A superb Stojkovic save from Zarko Korac’s shot nine minutes into the second half maintained the deadlock, with the Serbian stopper doing well once more to keep out Azulay’s effort soon after.
However, Stojkovic could do nothing to deny Azulay the opener one minute later.
Azulay, who played at Hapoel Rishon Lezion of the National League last season, began the move down the left flank and finished it off with a composed right-footed strike to break the deadlock.
Beitar sat back after the goal and invited Haifa pressure. However, the Greens couldn’t punish the hosts for their dangerous approach and their misery was compounded in the third minute of stoppage time after striker Mohammadou Idrissou was sent off for kicking Beitar’s Dusan Matovic.
Elsewhere, the Israeli transfer window closed on Monday with a flurry of activity.
Reigning champion Maccabi Tel Aviv was one of the busiest teams, trimming its deep squad by sending three players out on loan.
Hasan Abu Zaid joined Hapoel Petah Tikva, Dor Jan moved to Ironi Kiryat Shmona and Moshe Lugasi signed with Maccabi Petah Tikva, with the yellow-and-blue not requiring such a big squad following its early European exit.
Despite not being allowed to train with the first team and being asked to move, former Israel international Avihai Yadin remained at Maccabi Haifa as he was unwilling to take a pay cut in order to leave.
Hapoel Beersheba released out-of-favor midfielder Kobi Dajani, which will allow him to find a new club as a free player even after the close of the transfer window.