Local Soccer: Haifa celebrates title after 1-1 draw

Fernandez puts Betar Jerusalem in front before Rafaelov equalizes for Champions.

Maccabi Haifa 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Haifa 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Haifa celebrated its sixth league title in nine seasons on Monday night following a 1-1 draw with Betar Jerusalem in the final game of the 2008/09 Premier League season at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium in the North. Haifa had clinched the title with a victory at Maccabi Netanya last week, making the match against Betar nothing more than a friendly encounter ahead of the trophy festivities, which were what the fans had really come to see. Monday's match was not only the last of the season, but quite likely also the final game for many of the Betar players in the famous yellow jersey. Jerusalem faces a very uncertain future, but it seems all but certain that almost all of the players who were on the pitch on Monday will not be playing for the team next season. Haifa, playing in a replica of the jersey worn by the 1984 championship winning team, controlled the possession from the start, but struggled to create opportunities for most of the first half. However, the hosts should have taken the lead in the 23rd minute after some poor defending by Betar's Arik Benado. Shlomi Arbeitman stole the ball from the veteran on the edge of the area and put Osei Ransford through, but the 18-year-old Ghanaian somehow hit the post from five meters out to his teammate's disbelief. Five minutes later, Haifa paid the ultimate price for the miss. Dario Fernandez scored his first and last goal of the season with an exquisite free kick from 20 meters out which gave goalkeeper Nir Davidovich no chance. Haifa continued to dominate the play in the remainder of the first half and at the start of the second and finally got its reward in the 58th minute. An excellent Arbeitman pass found Lior Rafaelov in plenty of space and the midfielder beat 'keeper Tvrtko Kale to tie the scores. Azariya to coach Netanya Maccabi Netanya announced on Monday that Nati Azariya will replace Lothar Matthaus as coach. Azariya was Matthaus's assistant this season and will have a tough job on his hands as owner Daniel Jammer has decided to slash the club's budget ahead of next season. "I think it's only fair to give Nati a chance after working as Matthaus's assistant for a year," Jammer said. Hakoach ready for Nazareth playoff Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan will visit Ahi Nazareth on Tuesday in the first leg of the relegation playoff. Ramat Gan, which only escaped automatic relegation on Saturday after it defeated Hapoel Petah Tikva 1-0 and Ironi Kiryat Shmona lost 2-1 to Maccabi Petah Tikva, will be the favorite against Nazareth, which finished in sixth position in the National League. "We're expecting two very tough matches," Dahan told the Israel Post. "We're facing a team with a bigger budget, but after what happened on Saturday we're now unstoppable even against teams better than Nazareth."