Local Soccer: Betar's title hopes slip away with 2-2 draw

Bnei Yehuda holds its own against J'lem in pulsating Premier League match at Teddy.

Barak Itzhaki brilliant 248.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Barak Itzhaki brilliant 248.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Betar Jerusalem's hopes of winning a third consecutive Premier League title are all but over after Reuven Atar's side was held 2-2 by an inspired Bnei Yehuda in a dramatic encounter at Teddy Stadium on Monday night. The Jerusalem players knew this was a must-win game if the two-time title holders were to have any hope of staying in touch with Maccabi Haifa at the top of the standings. A tie leaves Betar third in the table, eight points off Haifa with seven games left in the season. Amit Ben-Shushan put the hosts in front early in the first half, but Kobi Moyal equalized just under five minutes before the interval. The visitors then went ahead five minutes into the second half and it was only due to substitute Toto Tamuz's late goal that Jerusalem picked up a share of the points. The fervent Teddy fans didn't know which Betar squad to expect on Monday - the flamboyantly overpowering team which annihilated Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan 4-0 last weekend or the weak side which meekly lost 1-0 at Maccabi Netanya in the previous round. In the end, the home team gave its all, but it just wasnt enough. Right from the start, Betar attacked at every opportunity but could not make the most of its early dominance. Idan Vered should have done better with his chance from inside the penalty area in the 10th minute, but shot straight at the Bnei Yehuda goalkeeper. The first real indication as to how the home team was approaching the game came in the 17th minute, when Barak Itzhaki picked up the ball on right and skipped past the bewildered visiting defense with a similar swift turn as the one which led to the second goal against Hakoach last week. The striker could only manage to shoot wide, but he undoubtedly showed that Jerusalem was going to take the game by the scruff of the neck. And so it did a minute later, when Ben-Shushan raced on to a poor attempt at a headed clearance from Israel national squad member Dean Mori and powered the ball past Dele Aiyenugba between the sticks to make it 1-0 to the home side. With the lead, Betar grew in stature and confidence, with Dario Fernandez running the midfield and only a last-gasp diving Aiyenugba dive preventing Ben-Shushan from notching two tallies in seven minutes. Forward Eliran Atar was the one bright spark for the visiting team, throwing himself into the game when it seemed to be drifting away from Guy Luzon's men. His attempts on goal, though, appeared feeble in comparison to Atar's troops' assault on the Bnei Yehuda back line. Pedro Galavan forced a save from Tvtyko Kale in the Jerusalem goal with 12 minutes to go to the half which gave away a corner kick, but the home defense illustrated its strength by mopping up the problem easily. However, the tables were unexpectedly turned in the 39th minute. Galavan floated in a free kick from outside the area in the center of the goal and on-loan Betar midfielder Moyal headed home the equalizer while totally unmarked, and it was suddenly 1-1. Now we had a game on our hands. The Bnei Yehuda players perked up, realizing they wouldn't be suffering a defeat of the manner that was inflicted on Ramat Gan, and the Betar team began fighting harder for every ball, but still looked a little nervous as the break approached. Both teams came out of the blocks with intent as the second half began, and it was Bnei Yehuda which struck first when Lioroi Zeiri exposed the hosts' defensive frailty to shoot past Kale from inside the box only five minutes in. The pressure started to build on the team in yellow as the home fans erupted in boos. Just as the game was running away from Betar, Atar replaced Ben-Shushan with Tamuz and he justified the decision with his first touch, turning in from close range to equalize with a quarter of an hour on the clock. It was all Betar in the last 10 minutes but Bnei Yehuda managed to soak up the pressure and take home the point.