Atar fruitless as Mac Haifa wins again

Atar fruitless as Mac Ha

Eliran Atar 248 88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Eliran Atar 248 88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Eliran Atar was due to leave for Zurich, Switzerland, early Monday morning to attend the prestigious FIFA World Player Gala 2009 at the city's Kongresshaus. But, rather than concerning himself with his nomination for the inaugural Puskas Award celebrating the best goal of the year, the Bnei Yehuda striker may well have been more worried about his team's weak performance in a 2-0 defeat at Maccabi Haifa on Sunday night. Atar was nowhere to be seen for much of the Premier League encounter at Kiryat Eliezer, where goals from Shlomi Arbeitman and Eyal Golasa made it 13 wins from 14 games for top of the table Haifa. Instead of dwelling on its European exit earlier this month, Maccabi has driven itself towards claiming a second consecutive league title. "It was important for us to win against a good team like Bnei Yehuda," said Haifa coach Elisha Levy, whose team faces city rival Hapoel Haifa next weekend. "We played well and we pressured them. We knew we had to win an important game and now we can think about the derby." Haifa was in scintillating form from the kickoff, and less than 30 seconds had gone when Arbeitman struck. Colombian midfielder John Culma whipped the ball in from the right hand side and the young striker continued his stunning form to rise high between two defenders and head into the corner of Aiyenugba's goal. It was Arbeitman's 14th goal in 14 league games and he saluted the crowd in the manner of a superstar. Haifa was in no mood to sit on its lead, rushing forward in an effort to take all of the sting out of the visitors' tails before they had a chance to recover. The Kiryat Eliezer crowd was in full voice as Biram Kiyal fed Lior Rafaelov inside the area and a Dean Mori block saved the visitors. Bnei Yehuda goalkeeper Dele Aiyenugba was called into action soon after when Arbeitman fired in a stinging effort a minute before Rafaelov went close with a long-range shot. Guy Luzon's side could hardly get the ball out of its own half in the opening quarter of an hour as the home side closed it down at a ferocious pace. And when they did get forward, the Bnei Yehuda players were met with a water tight defense which dismissed its opponent with ease. Atar was conspicuously absent throughout the first half, his most significant contribution coming 20 minutes before the break when he knocked Dekel Keinan to the ground as the Haifa defender blocked a rare shot from the 22-year-old with his head. As the game wore on the hosts were unable to keep up the speed in which they had begun, but that did not mean they were giving the visitors any more space. Haifa simply kept the ball for much longer periods, frustrating the team in orange with its suffocating tactics. Atar came alive for moments of the second half, first setting up an Aviv Hadad shot with a backheeled volley 10 minutes after the restart. Five minutes later he should have put his side level when Maharan Radi sent the ball over the Maccabi defense directly into his path, only for the striker to smash the ball over the crossbar on the half volley. But, for the most part, the Puskas Award nominee had little impact on the match. Memories of February's incredible overhead kicked goal which won him the nomination felt all the more distant on Sunday evening. During the middle portion of the second half Haifa was becoming sloppy at the other end and the team from south Tel Aviv appeared to sense an opportunity. However, poor midfield play restricted the number of chances and the minutes ticked away with Bnei Yehuda drifting towards defeat. Substitute Golasa made sure there was no return for the visitors seven minutes before the final whistle. The teenage wunderkid stormed into the area to slot home a Peter Masilela cross and leave Bnei Yehuda deflated. The 14th round will be completed on Monday night when Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Hapoel Ra'anana.