Ahi Nazareth upsets Hakoach to claim Premier League spot

Maccabi Ahi Nazareth will play Premier League soccer next season for the first time in five years.

soccer ball 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
soccer ball 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Maccabi Ahi Nazareth will play Premier League soccer next season for the first time in five years after ousting Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan in Saturday's promotion playoff second leg. Nazareth, which qualified for the playoff by finishing sixth in the National League, came from behind to triumph 2-1 at Ramat Gan's Winter Stadium. The win clinched a convincing 4-2 aggregate victory over Dudu Dahan's side, which ended the regular season second from bottom in the top division but will play in the National League next season. Serge Eli was the man of the match for the team in green, setting up Ivo Gida for the equalizer less than a minute into the second half, and then scoring the crucial winner with 15 minutes to go, putting the game all but out of reach for Hakoach. Tamir For had exploited shoddy goalkeeping by Tom Almadon in the 23rd minute to score the opener for the home side, which dominated all but the last few minutes of the first half. But Nazareth was all over Ramat Gan in the second period and was the worthy victor. It will be only the second time in the history of Israeli soccer that two teams from Arab towns will play in the top flight, the last coming in 2003 when Ahi and Bnei Sakhnin were both promoted to the Premier League. Nazareth coach Eli Machpud could hardly hide his delight at proving the form book wrong. "We did it and we did it with style," he said of his team's dominating performances both on Saturday night and in the first leg last Tuesday. "At halftime I told my team that if they play in the second half like they did in the last 10 minutes of the first, they will win the game." Dahan, who had weathered heavy criticism this season and last after giving up scouting to coach Hakoach, claimed the team lost because it had been tired from a long season. "When we got to the 'money time' we were tired and we paid the price for this," said Dahan, who had managed to lead his team to the State Cup semifinals, but not to Premier League safety.