Local soccer: Haifa rejoins championship race

Beats Mac. Netanya 1-0; other results: Hap. TA 3, Bnei Yehuda 1; Mac. Herzliya 1, Ashdod SC 2; Hakoach R. Gan 0, Mac. Petah Tikva 0; Hap. Petah Tikva 0, Hap. Kfar Saba 0.

Maccabi Haifa 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Haifa 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Haifa is back in the title race. The defending champion won for the first time in three games on Saturday, outperforming a stubborn Maccabi Netanya 1-0 at Kiryat Eliezer. Roni Levi's side now has 17 league points and a game in hand, which will be played against Bnei Yehuda on December 21. "It was a very important victory," Haifa coach Roni Levi said after the match. "We deserved the win, despite the poor quality of the game. It's not the Maccabi Haifa I want to see, but we failed to win in better games. I'm glad we collected all three points this time." Hapoel Tel Aviv produced a sound offensive effort to humble Bnei Yehuda 3-1, while Ashdod SC won the temporary pole-position in the league after registering a 2-1 away win over Maccabi Herzliya. Yossi Mizrahi's Betar Jerusalem and Eli Cohen's Maccabi Tel Aviv square off in Sunday's televised fixture at Teddy Stadium. Both teams were involved in a ticket quota dispute over the last few days, with the IFA suggesting the re-location of the game to the national stadium in Ramat Gan. But the clubs have finally reached an agreement which will enable around 2,000 Tel Aviv fans to attend the game. In Haifa, Alain Masudi was left on the bench for the hosts, who wasted no time and took the lead in the second minute of the clash. Gustavo Boccoli showed great vision in midfield and found Xavier Dirceo, who dispatched a fierce right-legged volley that landed in the back of the net. Netanya came ahead in the second half and created some dangerous attacks, but forwards Itai Shekhter and Ofir Haim failed to convert from their chances in front of goal. The greens switched to men-behind-ball tactics in the final stages and eventually managed an unimpressive 1-0 win. "Haifa wins even when it plays poorly," Netanya coach Eli Gutman commented. "We played an offensive game, but the second minute goal spoiled out game plan. We are going through a bad phase and a few changes will have to be made. It's a tough league and we have to fight in every game." Hapoel Tel Aviv 3, Bnei Yehuda 1 Lior Asulin stunned the Bloomfield crowd in the 14th, despite numerous attacks by Tel Aviv in the opening minutes. The swift forward intercepted Asi Baldut's pass and broke Hapoel's offside trap to score from close range and give the oranges the early lead. Walid Badir leveled the score in the 22nd minute with a close range header and Elyaniv Barda completed the comeback just nine minutes later with a fine solo effort. Ibazito Ogabuna added on Bnei Yehuda's misery with a 58th minute strike. "We played a good game and it's good to see the team winning," Hapoel coach Yitzhak Shum said after the win. "I hope the stadium will be full with our wonderful fans on Wednesday. Its going to be a tough game and I hope we can build on our wonderful run in Europe." Maccabi Herzliya 1, Ashdod SC 2 Ashdod entered the game as clear favorites, but had to work hard to find a goal as Herzliya employed an effective man-marking game-plan. Shai Holtzman cracked the hosts defense open in the 40th minute and set up Yaniv Azran, who score the game's first goal. Leonard Krupnik scored the equalizer in the 64th minute, but the visitors from the south found the winner in the 87th minute when Idan Shriki converted a spot-kick. Pati Yablanka was sent off following the penalty whistle for unsporting misconduct. Hakoach Ramat Gan 0, Maccabi Petah Tikva 0 Maccabi Petah Tikva took on Ramat Gan, looking to top the league table, at least until Betar Jerusalem's game on Sunday, but failed to achieve its goal. Patrick Suffo was tackled roughly in the penalty area in the dying minutes of the game, but referee Asher Cohen was not convinced by the Nigerian's dramatic fall. Hapoel Petah Tikva 0, Hapoel Kfar Saba 0 Kfar Saba failed to duplicate last week's 3-3 display against Maccabi Haifa and fell pray to Petah Tikva's trademark physical tactics. The greens had a chance to score in the 45th minute, after Omri Kanada handled the ball in the box. But Brazilian striker Jose Duarte missed a penalty and the game ended in a goalless stalemate.