1-0 victory over Betar keeps hopes alive for second-place finish.
By SHARON SOLOMON
Maccabi Netanya finished its Premier League campaign in style with a 1-0 victory over Betar Jerusalem on Saturday.
The new champion showed up for its season finale with a reduced and injured squad, which enabled Reuven Atar's charges to pull off the comfortable win.
Betar hosted the game at Winter Stadium in Ramat Gan, serving out its second radius match as punishment for the crowd disturbances at the Teddy Stadium last month.
The teams were allocated only 30 tickets each, which was not enough to create a sporting atmosphere. But the circumstances didn't bother Netanya, which registered the prestigious win.
"A good result and I'm proud of my lads," Atar said. "But this is not soccer. I think radius matches are not good for the sport. These players are professionals, but it's very hard to perform without the supporters. Our fans have been a big factor in our success this season and it's a pity they couldn't witness this win."
Defending champion Maccabi Haifa produced a sound performance in a 2-0 victory over Maccabi Herzliya, and secured a spot in next season's Intertoto Cup, which could lead to a spot in the UEFA Cup. Tomer Hemed, a product of Haifa's youth academy, powered the greens with a quick-fire double.
Maccabi Tel Aviv, which is currently third in the standings following Netanya's win and has a chance to to finish as runner-up, takes on archrival and Cup holder Hapoel Tel Aviv, in Sunday night's derby, the 2006/07 Premier League season finale.
Maccabi coach Eli Cohen will have to manage without starting defender Milan Martinovic, who sustained a thigh injury in training last week. The veteran coach is expected to field an ultra-offensive lineup, with Moshe Biton and Omer Peretz spearheading the attack.
Betar Jerusalem 0,Maccabi Netanya 1
With no more than a few dozen vocal fans in attendance, the Betar played its second and final radius match at Winter Stadium in Ramat Gan without the services of Shimon Gershon, Arik Benado and Tomer Ben-Yosef.
The opening minutes were dominated by Netanya, which struck gold in the third minute. Betar's makeshift defense failed to clear a Netanya corner kick and striker Ophir Haim did the damage with a clean strike from inside the penalty area.
Jerusalem coach Yossi Mizrahi introduced Michael Zandberg and Omri Afek in the second half, hoping to avoid defeat. But Netanya dominated the midfield and contained Betar's attackers.
Barak Itzhaki came close to finding the equalizer in the 78th minute, but his powerful shot struck the goal post and bounced out of play.
"It's tough to play in front of empty stands," Mizrahi said. "The game was played at a slow pace and Netanya scored their goal from a set-piece. However, we produced a wonderful season and did what was expected of us.
"I won't continue next season, but I'll always root for this team."
Maccabi Herzliya 0,Maccabi Haifa 2
The outgoing champion showed up for the crucial match with a depleted squad, as a number of key players were missing. Veteran Alon Harazi and striker Shlomi Arbeitman were absent due to suspensions. The injured Yaniv Katan (hip) and Nir Davidovitch (knee) also showed up only as spectators.
Despite the less-than-optimal conditions, Haifa played an attacking and adventurous game, creating numerous raids on Herzliya's goal. The hard work paid off in the latter stages of the first half, thanks to some impressive finishing by teen sensation Hemed.
Haifa opened up the scoring in the 38th minute, making the most of a mix-up in the Herzliya defense. The enthusiastic marksman took control of the ball in the box and provided the finish.
Hemed was in action again just four minutes later when he capped off a swift raid with an easy strike from close range.
"A sweet ending to a mediocre season," said Haifa coach Roni Levy. "We were unable to cope with the busy schedule this year. The UEFA Cup matches damaged our domestic season and the physical stress proved to be too much in the last few months. A lot of work has to be done this summer."
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