Soccer: Betar finally true to form in 2-1 victory

After falling behind a goal, Jerusalem scores a pair in two minutes early in the second half to edge Mac Netanya.

betar jerusalem ironi netanya 248.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
betar jerusalem ironi netanya 248.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Two-time defending champion Betar Jerusalem sent all its challengers a message on Monday, recording a critically important 2-1 victory at previously-top-of-the-table Maccabi Netanya. The win brings Betar to within seven points of the league-leading sides, Maccabi Haifa and Netanya, and indicated that Jerusalem has no intention of relinquishing its hold on the title without a fight. Betar was the better team throughout Monday's match, but the hosts took the lead in the 36th minute when Ravid Gazal scored a penalty after Itai Shechter was brought down in the box. Jerusalem finally made its superiority count in the second half, and clinched the win with two goals in two minutes. Eight minutes after the break, Amit Ben-Shushan tied the score and soon after Barak Itzhaki scored the winner to the joy of Betar coach Reuven Atar, who was making his first visit back to Netanya after being pushed out of the club in the summer. Both clubs entered the match in a shaky state of mind after being rocked by off-field scandals earlier in the day. Betar owner Arkadi Gaydamak spoke for the first time since his miserable failure in the Jerusalem mayoral race, and attacked the team's players and fans. "I won the championship and I won the Cup. The players didn't claim those titles, I did," Gaydamak told Ma'ariv. "The team won the double last season because of my money." Gaydamak also said he no longer cares for the club and lashed out at the Betar supporters. "I'm not interested in the fans anymore. If I could, I would lock them out of Teddy," he said. Netanya's players also had to deal with an unwanted distraction in the run-up to the match. A senior staff member at Maccabi was held under arrest for several hours and questioned by the police on Monday for allegedly bribing workers at The Israel Land Administration. The teams seemed to be affected by all the off-pitch diversions at the start of the match, with the first half-an-hour of the encounter dreary at best. Betar midfielder Michael Zandberg finally registered the match's first significant shot on target in the 31st minute, firing the ball towards the top corner from the edge of the box, only to be denied by Liran Shtrauber's acrobatic save. Four minutes later, Netanya took a surprise lead. David Amsalem couldn't keep up with Shechter and gifted the hosts a penalty by shoving the talented forward to the ground. Ravid Gazal smashed in the spot kick, giving 'keeper Tvrtko Kale no chance whatsoever. Despite having the best of the possession, Betar failed to create scoring opportunities until the break, but the second half was a completely different story. Jerusalem hit the ground running after the interval and turned the match on its head within two minutes. In the 53rd minute, Zandberg sent a superb pass to Ben-Shushan, who slotted the ball past a helpless Shtrauber. Ben-Shushan also played a crucial role in Betar's second goal, heading the ball into the path of Itzhaki, who coolly lobbed the ball over Shtrauber to score his sixth goal of the season. Seven minutes later Itzhaki almost scored what would have surely been one of the goals of the season. The striker struck a spectacular volley from just inside the area, but Shtrauber instinctively saved the nifty attempt. Despite being in the lead, the visitors continued to dominate the proceedings and were much closer to a third goal than Netanya was to getting the equalizer. Shtrauber single handedly kept his team in the match with gorgeous saves on Moshe Ohayon and Derek Boateng in the 77th and 78th minutes. In the 87th minute, Bruchian had an ideal opportunity to put the game to bed after substitute Toto Tamuz threw himself over Shtrauber and the referee awarded Betar a penalty. Another excellent save by Shtrauber, however, kept Bruchian's penalty out, but it was too little, too late for Netanya as Jerusalem claimed the crucial win.