Soccer: Matthaus's men march to the top

Ten-man Maccabi Netanya holds on to win 3-2 at title challenger Maccabi Haifa.

Maccabi Netanya 248.88 posing stupidly (photo credit: Channel 10)
Maccabi Netanya 248.88 posing stupidly
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Maccabi Netanya handed Maccabi Haifa its first league defeat of the season on Monday and leapfrogged the Greens into first position in the standings. A disciplined performance by Lothar Matthaus's team was enough to claim a 3-2 victory at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium and means Netanya is the only remaining unbeaten side in the Premier League. Next week Netanya hosts Betar Jerusalem, and a second straight win will prove beyond doubt that the Diamonds have what it takes to end their 25-year wait for a league title. Monday's loss ended Haifa's four-match winning streak and was a significant setback for Elisha Levy's team. Up until Monday everything had gone Haifa's way this season, and it will be intriguing to see how the side rebounds from its first disappointment of the campaign. The match was a fiery and well-balanced affair, but three first half goals gave Netanya a lead it wouldn't relinquish. Itai Shechter scored the opener in the seventh minute but Dekel Keinan equalized six minutes later and the match was up for grabs. However goals in the 24th and 37th minutes by Shalev Menashe and Ze'ev Haimovitch gave the visitors a two-goal cushion and, despite Thembinkosi Fanteni's goal in the 53rd minute and Thierry Tazemeta's sending off six minutes later, Netanya returned home with all three points. With Haifa and Netanya entering the match as the two best defensive teams in the league, many had predicted that Monday's match would end in a goalless deadlock. Nothing could be further from the truth. The capacity crowd at Kiryat Eliezer witnessed four goals in the first half alone, although with Netanya getting three of them, the Haifa fans may have wished the half had ended goalless after all. In the seventh minute, a defensive lapse by the hosts let in Shechter and the talented Israel Under-21 forward coolly chipped the ball over 'keeper Amir Edri. Haifa was back on level terms within just six minutes, with Netanya's defense faltering this time. Keinan was left unmarked five meters from Liran Shtrauber's goal and the full-back easily headed Gustavo Boccoli's accurate cross beyond the goalkeeper. The local support was expecting that its team would push for a second goal after scoring the equalizer, but to their disappointment it was the visitors who scored next. Defender Klemi Saban raced unchallenged down the field in the 24th minute and laid the ball off beautifully for Menashe, who clinically finished the move off with his left foot from just inside the area. It would take just another 13 minutes for Netanya to consolidate its lead. Menashe was in the thick of the action once more, crossing a free-kick into the box for an unmarked Haimovitch, who tucked the ball beyond a helpless Edri. Haifa hit the ground running at the start of the second half and soon grabbed its second goal of the encounter. Eight minutes after the break, Lior Rafaelov's corner was steered in by Fanteni's head and Haifa's hopes were raised. The hosts continued to push forward furiously and almost got an equalizer in the 57th minute. A great team move ended with the ball at Rafaelov's feet in the box, but the midfielder sent his right footed shot centimeters wide of Shtrauber's left post. Two minutes later the momentum shifted even further in Haifa's favor after Thierry Tazemeta received a straight red card for stamping on Leonard Krupnik's knee. It seemed as though Haifa would also be reduced to 10-men in the 70th minute when Colombian John Culma was shown a red card for a hard but fair tackle on Dedi Ben-Dayan. Referee Asaf Keinan did the right thing however, and after consulting with his assistant swallowed his pride and gave Culma a yellow card instead of the red. Haifa may have maintained its one-man advantage, but it was still struggling to create scoring opportunities. The team's best chance to escape with a point came in the 85th minute. Krupnik's header flew across the goal line, but lacked a finishing touch. And after Keinan was sent-off in stoppage time, Netanya had no problem holding on for a memorable victory.