Local Soccer: Mighty Maccabi Haifa blanks Betar 3-0

After tight first half, Greens pile it on in Jerusalem; Ra’anana flip-flops on Cohen sacking.

maccabi haifa soccer 311 (photo credit: Roi Levy)
maccabi haifa soccer 311
(photo credit: Roi Levy)
Any illusion Betar Jerusalem still had of its ability to challenge the Premier League’s best was dispelled on Sunday night at Teddy Stadium by the imperious Maccabi Haifa.
Betar threw all it had at the reigning champion in the first half, but Haifa was more than happy to soak up the pressure before striking twice within the first seven minutes of the second half on its way to a 3-0 victory, its 20th in 22 league matches this season.
Despite Betar’s best efforts, Haifa’s record breaking run was never really in any danger of being disturbed and coach Elisha Levy was delighted with his team’s performance.
“We overcame a very difficult hurdle in Betar,” Levy said. “The match was tight in the first half and Betar even had a slight advantage. However, we pressured Jerusalem in the second half and didn’t give them time or space. We created opportunities and converted them. We are closing in on the title with every week that passes.”
Betar controlled a largely uneventful first 45 minutes, but Haifa clinched the victory within the first seven minutes of the second half. Mohammad Ghadir broke the deadlock just 19 seconds after coming on as a sub and  league top-scorer Shlomi Arbetiman found the back of the net yet again soon after to give Haifa a lead it was never going to lose.
Gustavo Boccoli put the icing on the cake in the 89th minute and Haifa moved once more 12 points clear of second-place Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Betar, which has now won just once in its last eight league matches and faces a tough battle to even qualify for the league’s top-six playoff, was intent on pressuring Haifa from the start of the match, but despite enjoying the lion’s share of the possession never really threatened Nir Davidovitch’s goal.
Idan Vered was Jerusalem’s most dangerous player, terrorizing the Haifa defense but lacking the finishing touch to give the hosts the lead.
Vered notched Betar’s best chance of the first half in the 15th minute, receiving the ball inside the box with plenty of time and space, only to send a harmless shot wide of Davidovitch’s goal.
Jerusalem continued to dictate the play in the remainder of the half, but Haifa’s defense had little trouble keeping the hosts at bay and the Greens attack would strike at the start of the second half.
Levy replaced Vladimir Dvalishvili with Ghadir at the break and his substitution would bear fruit within 19 seconds.
Jerusalem’s defense could not clear the danger and Ghadir latched on to the ball, slotting in the opener past Ariel Harush.
Seven minutes later Haifa doubled its lead and all but secured the three points. After a great run down the left flank, Peter Masilela laid the ball off to Arbeitman and the prolific striker scored his 19th league goal of the season with ease.
Barak Itzhaki came close to minimizing the damage for Betar in the 75th minute, with his shot from outside the area hitting the crossbar. However, Haifa was always the likelier team to score the next goal and substitute Boccoli piled the misery on the hosts one minute from time.
In other Israeli soccer news, Hapoel Ra’anana coach Eli Cohen was sacked on Sunday morning, only to be reinstalled as coach later in the evening.
Ra’anana lost 1-0 to Bnei Sakhnin on Saturday, its seventh straightmatch without victory, and club owner Asher Alon decided to fire Cohenafter a meeting on Sunday morning.
However, ahead of Sunday’s training session, Ra’anana’s players pleadedwith Alon to hand Cohen his job back and the owner submitted to theirrequest and the coach returned to the helm.