Local Soccer: Relegation picture to be decided in final week

Ironi Kiryat Shmona can, at the very least, secure itself a place in the relegation playoff if it defeats Maccabi Petah Tikva in the final weekend of Premier League action on Saturday. Kiryat Shmona is currently in 11th position, one point clear of rock-bottom Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan. The team which ends the season in 11th place will face Ahi Nazareth of the National League in a two-legged relegation playoff, with the club finishing in last position being relegated automatically. After losing five straight matches, Ran Ben-Shimon's Kiryat Shmona has found its form in the last three weeks, winning two straight games before drawing 0-0 with Bnei Yehuda last Saturday. Hakoach will likely need to get the better of Hapoel Petah Tikva and for Kiryat Shmona to fail to win to avoid relegation on Saturday. Dudu Dahan's team can also elude going back down to the National League just one season after gaining promotion is if it draws and Kiryat Shmona loses by two goals or more. Bnei Sakhnin, which is three points clear of Kiryat Shmona, hosts Bnei Yehuda on Saturday, knowing it needs just a single point to ensure itself another season of Premier League soccer. Bnei Yehuda can clinch itself a place in next season's Europa League, which replaces the UEFA Cup, if it wins in Sakhnin and Maccabi Netanya fails to do so at Hapoel Tel Aviv. However, despite winning the State Cup and ending the season in third place, Betar Jerusalem will in all likelihood not play in Europe next season after failing to meet the UEFA club licensing committee's requirements, and therefore Bnei Yehuda and Netanya will probably take part in continental competition regardless of Saturday's results. Also Saturday, Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Ashdod SC. On Monday, Betar visits Maccabi Haifa in the final match of the 2008/09 season.