Five teams look for Euro berth

Maccabi Haifa's chances of qualifying for continental play for an eighth straight year look slim.

Maccabi Haifa 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Haifa 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The battle for European qualification will be at the center of Matchday 31 this weekend. With three matches left to play in the Premier League season, only six points separate five teams chasing the two remaining European berths. Second-place Maccabi Tel Aviv, which was penalized two points on Monday for financial irregularities, visits Hakoah Amidar Ramat Gan, with both teams in desperate need of all three points. Tel Aviv recorded a convincing 3-0 victory against Maccabi Herzliya last week. It faces a Hakoah side which will be looking to defeat Tel Aviv's finest for a second straight week. The struggling Ramat Gan gave itself a lifeline by defeating Hapoel Tel Aviv 2-1 at Bloomfield Stadium last week and could close to within one point of Herzliya with a victory on Saturday. Herzliya, which lost last week for the first in six matches, hosts third-place Maccabi Netanya, which is seeking an historic UEFA Cup berth. Netanya is unbeaten in its last seven matches and hasn't conceded a goal in its last four. The club lost 1-0 when it last played in Herzliya in early December, but knows another loss at the same stadium on Saturday may cost the side a European spot. Maccabi Haifa's chances of qualifying for continental play for an eighth straight year suffered a huge blow last week after it lost 1-0 to Maccabi Petah Tikva at home. Haifa had won four of its previous five matches, but played poorly throughout the match and deserved its defeat. Haifa's European aspirations suffered a further blow on Wednesday after an Israeli Football Association tribunal sentenced the team to play its final home game of the season against Bnei Yehuda away from Kiryat Eliezer Stadium. The IFA punished the team for its fans' behavior in the State Cup quarterfinals against Hapoel Ramat Gan. "We still have a chance to reach European competition and we need to finish the league campaign in the best possible way," coach Roni Levy said. Haifa travels to Kfar Saba to face Hapoel on Saturday, with the hosts winless in their last six matches. Maccabi Petah Tikva, which has won its last two matches and kept a clean sheet in its last three, plays arch-rival Hapoel Petah Tikva on Saturday. Hapoel was relegated weeks ago, but knows it has the chance to sweeten the pill slightly for its fans with a victory in the derby. Maccabi trails third-place Netanya by just three points and is looking to reach Europe for a third time in the last four years. Bnei Yehuda hosts Ashdod SC in a match between two sides that would like to put their disappointing 2006/07 campaigns behind them as quickly as possible. Champion Betar Jerusalem will host Hapoel Tel Aviv at Winter Stadium in Ramat Gan on Sunday night in the first of its four radius matches in front of empty stands. Saturday's matches: Hapoel Kfar Saba vs Maccabi Haifa, 5 p.m. (live on Sport1 [channel 54]); Hapoel Petah Tikva vs Maccabi Petah Tikva, 6:30 p.m.; Bnei Yehuda vs Ashdod SC, 7:30 p.m.; Maccabi Herzilya vs Maccabi Netanya, 7:30 p.m. (live on Sport2 [channel 53]); Hakoah Amidar Ramat Gan vs Maccabi Tel Aviv, 7:30 p.m. (live on Sport1). Sunday: Betar Jerusalem vs Hapoel Tel Aviv at Winter Stadium, 8:50 p.m. (live on Channel 10).