Juicy relegation race featuring high-profile clubs

Sinai Says: Six teams will enter their final match of the season in danger of being demoted.

BETAR JERUSALEM coach Eli Cohen 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
BETAR JERUSALEM coach Eli Cohen 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
It is safe to say that the Israeli Premier League has never seen anything like this.
Six teams will enter their final match of the season on Saturday in danger of being demoted to the National League, with all six having their fate in their own hands.
Only one of the six will be relegated, but that will do nothing to calm the nerves of Hapoel Haifa (38 points, 9 wins, 35-44 goal difference), Beitar Jerusalem (38, 9, 44-54), Hapoel Beersheba (38, 9, 29-39), Hapoel Acre (36, 8, 38-47), Bnei Sakhnin (36, 8, 31-49) and Maccabi Netanya (35, 8, 38-47).
In an attempt to simplify matters, here are the basic facts.
Overall goal difference will act as the first tiebreaker should two teams or more end the season with an identical point total, with the second tiebreaker being the number of wins recorded in the season.
It is quite possible that the fight for survival will end up being decided by the third tiebreaker, which is the total number of goals scored by each team throughout the season.
Saturday’s matches will see Sakhnin host Beitar, Acre welcome Haifa and Netanya face Beersheba.
What makes this battle against relegation so unique is not only the fact that every team knows that a win on Saturday will secure its safety regardless of other results, but that several of local soccer’s biggest clubs find themselves involved in the scuffle.
Beitar, Haifa, Netanya and Beersheba are all former champions, with Beitar leading the pack with six titles, the last of which came just five years ago.
It has been a while since Haifa, Netanya and Beersheba enjoyed their heyday, with all three experiencing a drop to the National League over the past decade.
Haifa and Beersheba, as well as Acre, only returned to the top flight in 2009 when the league expanded to 16 teams, with Netanya playing consecutively in the Premier League for the past eight years and Sakhnin for the last six.
Beitar, on the other hand, has been in the top division since 1992, and is still trying to come to terms with finding itself in peril with just one set of fixtures remaining in the season.
There are essentially an infinite amount of scenarios for Saturday, with the six sides facing each other.
Should Acre beat Haifa, Netanya defeat Beersheba and Sakhnin get the better of Beitar, there will be a four-way tie for 13th place, which will lead to the second division at around 9 p.m. on Saturday night.
Haifa’s superior goal difference means it can afford to lose by two goals and still be certain of its safety, while a defeat by a single goal will be enough for Beitar regardless of other results.
However, it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario in which Beitar loses 2-0 to Sakhnin and both Acre and Netanya claim home wins to leapfrog Jerusalem and sensationally send the team from the capital to the second division.
Excluding the incalculable goal-difference scenario, there are 26 other ways in which Saturday’s matches can unfold.
I won’t go into each and every one of them, but in 13 of them Netanya will be demoted, in eight Sakhnin and in five Acre, with Haifa, Beitar and Beersheba only in danger of suffering the drop on goal difference.
However, while that seems to indicate that Beersheba is all but safe, its inferior goal difference means that a defeat by any score-line at Netanya combined with wins for Acre and Sakhnin could see the southerners lose their top-flight status.
Netanya clearly enters the weekend in the toughest situation, but even Reuven Atar’s side knows that it only requires a 1-0 victory over Beersheba to remain in the Premier League regardless of other outcomes.
However, Netanya is also the only team which will definitely go down should it lose.
The other five can afford to suffer defeat and still remain afloat should other results work in their favor, with a draw possibly enough for all six, including Netanya, but once again, only if other scores go their way.
It is all quite confusing, I know.
But after more than eight months and 32 matches for each team, this is what the season has come down to.
Trying to forecast what might happen on Saturday seems all but impossible.
But of one thing we can be certain; there will be plenty more twists to end a roller coaster campaign that has been unpredictable from its first weekend in August and remains just as difficult to call with 90 minutes left to play.allon@jpost.com