Hapoel Tel Aviv's title aspirations dealt a massive blow.
By ALLON SINAI
Hapoel Tel Aviv's title aspirations were dealt a massive blow by Maccabi Haifa on Sunday night, after the three-time reigning champion recorded its first league victory in five matches, defeating the reds 4-0 at Kiryat Eliezer.
However, the real winner on Sunday was league leader Betar Jerusalem, which extended its lead in the standings over Matchday 25 from two points to four points and moved a step closer to its first league title in nine years.
Haifa got off to a flying start and took the lead in the third minute.
Gustavo Boccoli elegantly volleyed in Abas Suan's cross from five meters out, scoring his third goal of the season.
Hapoel seized control of the match in the subsequent minutes, with midfielder Baruch Dego twice guilty of missing superb chances to equalize. In the 10th minute, Dego received the ball all alone on the edge of Haifa's box, but his right-footed shot went just wide of the right post, to goalkeeper Nir Davidovitch's relief.
Fourteen minutes later Dego had an ideal chance to tie the score from the penalty spot after Haifa's Brazilian Xavier Dirceo was judged to have held back Hapoel defender Rami Doani in the box. However, Dego hit a terrible left-footed penalty that rolled harmlessly wide of Davidovitch's goal.
Tel Aviv would live to regret the penalty miss and after a stunning piece of skill by Lior Rafaelov in the 37th minute, found itself two goals down. The Haifa winger picked up the ball 35 meters from goal and, after catching Tel Aviv defender Danny Bonder on the wrong foot, released an unstoppable drive that rocketed into the back of Shavit Elimelech's goal.
After 15 non-eventful second-half minutes, Maccabi defender Adoram Keisi almost scored his team's third when his clever shot was saved on the line by Elimelech. Less than a minute later, Hapoel was centimeters away from getting on the scoreboard when Walid Badier blasted the ball just over the crossbar.
In the 67th minute, a Hapoel player finally scored, but unfortunately for Maccabi Haifa. Defender Javier Paes headed the ball into his own net and gave the hosts an unassailable lead.
Tel Aviv fell apart in the following minutes and ended the match with nine players. Substitute Luciano De Bruno picked up two quick yellow cards and two minutes from the final whistle, Doani was shown the red card after tackling striker Roberto Colautti from behind.
Haifa scored its fourth from the subsequent free kick after Dirceo hit a superb shot from 30 meters.
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