Opening day delight for Maccabi TA

Nimni's men see off Sakhnin 3-1 as new owner watches; Haifa edges past Acre 2-1.

Maccabi Tel Aviv Shivhon 248.88 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv Shivhon 248.88
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv's young guns gave new chairman Mitchell Goldhar a dream start to the new Israeli Premier League season on Saturday night, with a well-deserved 3-1 win at home to Bnei Sakhnin, in a game that was neither short on quality from the hosts nor controversy from the officials. Also Saturday, Maccabi Haifa striker Shlomi Arbeitman popped up with a last-minute goal just like he did against Salzburg in Wednesday's Champions League playoff, to give the Greens a 2-1 victory against valiant league newcomers Hapoel Acre. Elsewhere, newly-promoted Hapoel Haifa came from behind to beat Maccabi Netanya away from home, while two Lior Asulin goals gave Hapoel Beersheba a 2-1 win against fellow Premier League newboys Hapoel Ra'anana. Meanwhile, Hapoel Ramat Gan's Shai Haddad canceled out a Tomislav Busic effort in a 1-1 draw away at Maccabi Petah Tikva, while Elnatan Salami's late strike gave Hapoel Petah Tikva victory at Maccabi Ahi Nazareth. But the real drama of the day was at Bloomfield Stadium, where Maccabi Tel Aviv started brightly, spreading the ball about confidently and playing with plenty of attacking verve. Yossi Shivhon had an effort harshly ruled out for offside on 17 minutes, before shooting tamely at Sakhnin stopper Mahmud Kannadil after Guillermo Israelevich had teed the ball up for him. Israelevich then headed over after Kannadil parried Shivhon's stinging effort, and in the closing stages of the half, Yuval Avidor finished a flowing move by heading a Roni Gafni cross just wide. Maccabi broke the deadlock 30 seconds after the restart thanks to the introduction of Emmanuel Mayuka. The young Zambian super sub drove forward with zest and swapped passes with Yavruyan, who stroked the ball into the corner from just inside the box. Mayuka was then slipped in by Avidor, but went for power instead of placement and his shot was saved by Kannadil's legs. Yavruyan turned in a Yuval Spungin center to double the hosts' lead midway through the second-half, but the Maccabi defense was then caught napping, allowing Ahmed Kasoum to head in a deep free-kick and pull Sakhnin back into the game. The controversy came a minute later when Avi Nimni's men thought they had restored their two-goal advantage after Israelevich played a one-two with Yavruyan before chipping the ball over Kannadil. As the midfielder wheeled away in celebration, the fourth official notified referee Assaf Keinan that Yavruyan had been in an offside position. Keinan first overruled the official and gave a goal, encouraging wild demonstrations from the visiting players, only to change his mind after discussions which took around five minutes. The decision ultimately appeared to be the right one, even though Keinan seemed to be influenced by some fierce Sakhnin protests. With tension in the air, Maccabi managed to compose itself and wrapped up the win in injury time, when Shiran Yeini headed in a Shivhon corner. Nimni was delighted to come through what "is not an easy game," but said his players "made things difficult for themselves" by failing to fully capitalize on their dominance. "Of course, I'm very pleased to win our first game of the campaign," he said, adding that the club was aiming for a top-four finish this season. Talking to reporters after arriving in the country on Friday, Goldhar spoke of his excitement at his new challenge, but stressed that there was a lot of work to be done. "I was very excited about this starting point. We have a lot of work to do, this is a process… any worthwhile process takes time," the Canadian said. "I look forward to this challenge. What I'm intrigued about with this opportunity is that this is a team that needs to be figured out. "I look forward to meeting many, many people," he continued. "The players, the coaches, the staff and everybody who works at the stadium, so that we can build this organization properly, a natural organic process [is required] to building this team, which will take quite a long time." "Let the process begin, I'm very excited," he added. "This is the kind of thing that I thrive on." The first round of games continues on Sunday when Bnei Yehuda visits Ashdod SC, and culminates on Monday with Hapoel Tel Aviv's clash with Betar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium.