Playoffs and relegation battle seedings set

Maccabi Haifa is ahead of Maccabi Tel Aviv for 1st place; Beitar Jerusalem loses and coaches resign.

 IN A fiesty Tel Aviv derby on Saturday night at Bloomfield, Maccabi Tel Aviv was held to a 1-1 draw by Hapoel Tel Aviv, which almost pulled off the upset. (photo credit: ARIEL SHALOM)
IN A fiesty Tel Aviv derby on Saturday night at Bloomfield, Maccabi Tel Aviv was held to a 1-1 draw by Hapoel Tel Aviv, which almost pulled off the upset.
(photo credit: ARIEL SHALOM)
 The Israel Soccer Championship Playoffs are set as the final three places that were up for grabs this weekend went to Ironi Kiryat Shmona, Maccabi Petah Tikva and Hapoel Beersheba.
That trio of clubs joins Maccabi Haifa, who retook first place, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Ashdod SC as the six of them will battle it out over the last 10 game days for the league title and a spot to qualify for a European competition.
Immediately after Beitar Jerusalem fell to Ashdod and didn’t advance to the Championship Playoffs, co-coaches Slobodan Drapic and Shay Barda resigned from their positions. Also on the slate was the Tel Aviv derby, which ended in a 1-1 draw, and later this week the Israel National Team will play Denmark and Scotland in 2022 World Cup qualifying.
Hapoel Beersheba downed Bnei Yehuda 2-0 at the southern capital as Tomer Yosefi’s brace secured the club’s qualification in the Championship Playoffs.
Yosefi broke a goalless deadlock in the 37th minute when he scored thanks to a terrific individual effort by Sagiv Yehezkel. His second strike came from inside the box when he put the ball right through Bnei Yehuda ’keeper Barak Levi to wrap up the win for Beersheba.
“Other than the win, which was very important, we were able to enjoy the game with our fans,” said Beersheba coach Roni Levi. “We had some tough times with injured players and some who were out and suspended, but those who did play were very good and we made it through a busy stretch.”
Beni Yehuda boss Yossi Abukasis has some pointed words for his player.
“We won’t raise our hands until the end,” Abukasis stated. “We have a big issue, when we get to the last third of the pitch we can’t score. There was a 30-minute period where we were the better team, but we couldn’t find the back of the goal and against a quality team you can’t make mistakes.”
Also, Kiryat Shmona blanked Hapoel Kfar Saba 1-0 thanks to an early goal by Mohamed Shaker to clinch a place in the playoffs.
The visitors could have taken the lead in the seventh minute on Lucio’s penalty, but the striker’s spot kick was smartly saved by Matan Zalmanovich. However, just minutes later Shaker took a Eugene Ansah through ball and put it behind the ’keeper to send Kobi Refuah’s team into the upper half of the table for a chance at one of the continental slots.
“I’m proud of the guys and there’s no one happier than me,” said an excited Refuah. “The players deserve this and they were able to handle a tough schedule due to the coronavirus. Last season, we just stayed in the league and now we are in the Championship Playoffs thanks to the team.”
Kfar Saba coach Elisha Levy reflected on the defeat.
“It’s not easy to lose week after week and I don’t remember the last time I was angry as I am now as the referees don’t even care about us,” said Levy. “The team came and gave everything they had, their heart and soul and it wasn’t enough. We have to change the momentum.”
Down south, Beitar Jerusalem fell 2-0 to Ashdod by the Port City ending its Championship Playoff dreams on goals Ramzi Safuri and Shlomi Azulay.
Dead David sent Safuri a terrific ball as the winger put it off of Shay Konstantin and into Itamar Nitzan’s goal for a 1-0 Ashdod lead in the 14th minute. A quarter-hour later, former Beitar midfielder Azulay sent another David pass into the goal to give Ashdod the win.
“The feelings aren’t great, we tried and we couldn’t achieve our goal,” said a disappointed Beitar co-coach Barda. “The profession of being a coach is challenging and you try to find solutions quickly, but right now we are hanging our heads.”
Drapic commented on leaving the club.
“Unfortunately we didn’t reach our expectations. I want to wish the club good luck going forward.”
In the Tel Aviv derby, Maccabi and Hapoel drew 1-1 to split the points as the yellow-and-blue dropped out of first place and now trails Maccabi Haifa by a point.
The Reds opened the scoring thanks to a first-half goal by Omri Altman, while Maccabi’s Dor Peretz scored in the second half to earn a point for the yellow-and-blue.
“This was a good result especially against a strong team like Maccabi Tel Aviv,” said Hapoel coach Nir Klinger. “The goal we gave up off a set-piece gave Maccabi hope and if we would have kept the score 1-0 we could have won the game.”
Maccabi coach Patrick van Leeuwen saw things a bit differently
“We were dominant, but we didn’t finish our chances,” said van Leeuwen. “There were moments where we could have scored a second goal. This was a game they didn’t fall for us and some players weren’t able to play their best.”
Up north, Maccabi Haifa denied Maccabi Netanya a Championship Playoff spot as the hosts defeated the diamond city squad 2-0 to also reclaim first.
Raz Meir opened the scoring in the seventh minute thanks to a nice ball from Nikita Rukavytsya, who then added the insurance strike for his 17th goal on the season to wrap up the win and send Raymond Atteveld’s team to the relegation playoffs.
“Netanya controlled the game and played at a very high level after we scored our first goal,” said Greens coach Barak Bachar. “I’m happy that we were able to score in the second half, but it’s too bad Netanya isn’t in the playoffs.”
Elsewhere, Maccabi Petah Tikva came up on the short end of a 1-0 defeat to Bnei Sakhnin, but still was able to claim a place in the Championship Playoffs.
Osama Khalaila scored the lone goal of the match when he headed home the ball in the 55th minute to give Sharon Mimer’s side the three points.
“We achieved our goal,” said a content Petah Tikva coach Guy Luzon. “After everyone said we were candidates for relegation with journeymen players these guys made it to the Championship Playoffs with one of the smallest budgets in the league. This was an amazing accomplishment.”