Local Soccer: Hap TA closes gap on Haifa in title race

Guttman's men scrape past Bnei Yehuda; Greens drop points vs Mac PT; Hakoach draws with Mac TA.

maccabi tel aviv hakoach 248 88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
maccabi tel aviv hakoach 248 88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israeli soccer fans can expect an exhilarating finish to the league season as Hapoel Tel Aviv's 2-1 win against Bnei Yehuda on Saturday along with Haifa's draw with Maccabi Petah Tikva means that a win in Sunday's mouth-watering encounter between Maccabi Netanya and Betar Jerusalem will separate the top three teams by just three points. In other action Saturday, Hakoach kept its survival hopes alive with a deserved draw at home to Maccabi Tel Aviv, while, after its midweek State Cup heroics, Bnei Sakhnin wrapped up a triumphant few days with a 3-2 victory against Ashdod. At Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday night, Ben Luz opened the scoring with a lovely goal to give Hapoel Tel Aviv an early lead. The midfield maestro clipped the ball to Samuel Yeboah, latched onto the striker's cushioned header and slammed a stunning shot in at the near post, giving Bnei Yehuda 'keeper Dele Aiyenugba no chance. Bnei Yehuda had a stroke of luck to level on the half-hour. Eliran Atar went down in the box under a Douglas Da Silva challenge and the referee generously awarded a penalty, which was dispatched by Assi Baldout. Hapoel regained the league with some 20 minutes to play, thanks to an eagle-eyed linesman who spotted Kfir Edri's handball just inside the area. Hapoel goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama scored the penalty, beating his opposite number and fellow Nigerian Dele Aiyenugba. Bnei Yehuda finished the game strongly, and almost drew level at the death, when Edri's wonderful volley whistled whiskers wide after Pedro Galvan's free kick was cleared to the edge of the box by the Hapoel defense. The game ended on an ugly note as Enyeama was sent off after the final whistle for bizarrely throwing the ball at Kobi Moyal's head from pointblank range. Hapoel coach Eli Guttman maintained that his side had "controlled most of the game," although he said his players had made it difficult for themselves, lamenting that "we keep conceding goals from mistakes." Maccabi Haifa 0, Maccabi Petah Tikva 0 Haifa started the game well with Yaniv Katan shooting wide and Gustavo Boccoli volleying over inside the first 15 minutes, but the league leader grew increasingly frustrated as it failed to capitalize on its possession, and the isolated Thembinkosi Fanteni was repeatedly thwarted by the excellent Murad Megamadov and Boban Grncarov. The South African did have a sniff at goal after half an hour though, but his header from a Katan cross was tipped over the bar by Petah Tikva stopper Ohad Cohen. Haifa totally lost its shape in the second half, and for all its possession, hardly looked like a potential champion. The Greens were guilty of some wayward passing, too, particularly from the perennially disappointing Colombian, John Culma. The league leader did create a golden opportunity midway through the half though, when Biram Kiyal's pass deflected into Boccoli's path, but just as the Brazilian looked certain to score, Megamadov got back to make a crucial interception. Haifa coach Elisha Levy remained upbeat despite the dropped points. "I thought we played well, we just didn't manage to score in our good moments," he said. "They defended very well and didn't give us many chances, but we need to take the positives and move on." Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan 1, Maccabi Tel Aviv 1 Maccabi Tel Aviv went in front on 17 minutes when an unmarked Shiran Yeini headed in a Maor Buzaglo corner, but the hosts were unfortunate not to go into the dressing room level at half time after Amir Abu Arar's goal was harshly ruled out for offside and Maccabi 'keeper Dragoslav Yevric then made a spectacular save from a Barak Badash header. However, Hakoach didn't have to wait long for the equalizer, leveling nine minutes after the break when Yevric misjudged an Idan Weitzman corner and Michael Tukura rose at the far post to head home.