Local Soccer: The game of the season

Second-place Tel Aviv visits league leader Haifa with just 3 matches left.

yaniv katan 88 (photo credit: )
yaniv katan 88
(photo credit: )
The Premier League title could very likely be won or lost at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Monday night. Top-of-the-table Maccabi Haifa hosts second-place Hapoel Tel Aviv, knowing a victory will take it five points clear of its title rival and within two points of claiming the championship. However, Tel Aviv can leapfrog Haifa and move to within touching distance of its first league title since 2000 with a road win, making Monday's match a make-or-break affair for both sides. Haifa and Hapoel have so far met three times this season, drawing twice in the league and once in the State Cup, before Maccabi advanced in a penalty shootout. Haifa has failed to defeat any of the league's top four teams this season, drawing four times and losing twice in six matches against Hapoel, Jerusalem and Netanya. However, the team in green will have to improve its record against Israel's best sides if it's to take the championship, as it faces Maccabi Netanya and Betar Jerusalem in its final two matches of the season following Monday's game against Hapoel. "The match against Tel Aviv is very significant to the title race, but is not critical to us as we have a two point advantage over Hapoel," Haifa coach Elisha Levy said. "We are in good form and are ready for the match, and that's the most important thing to me." Both Haifa and Hapoel have been far from convincing this season, but one of them is going to win the league and Levy feels either would be a worthy champion. "Lately it has become very fashionable to criticize Israeli soccer, but I think we have an interesting league," Levy said. "Don't compare us to Manchester United or Barcelona, but we have a tight title race and we need to be more positive." Hapoel has a much easier run-in than Haifa, hosting Haokach Amidar Ramat Gan and Maccabi Netanya in its final two matches, and will be desperate to have its fate back in its own hands by taking all three points on Monday. "Even though Haifa is in good form we have the ability to cope with them and beat them," Hapoel coach Eli Gutman said. "I believe in my players and I know that in the moment of truth they will get the job done." Unlike Haifa, Hapoel has been relatively successful against the league's better teams, losing just once in seven matches against Haifa, Jerusalem and Netanya, while winning three and drawing another three matches. "We all know our entire season depends on this one match," Tel Aviv defender Yigal Antebi said. "We must be composed and we can't afford to lose. If we lose I think our season will be over. We will be giving our very best to leave Haifa with the points."