Soccer: Recently promoted teams battle for places in Europe

Excellent starts to the season have raised the ambitions of Ironi Kiryat Shmona and Bnei Sakhnin.

bnei sakhnin fans 88 (photo credit: )
bnei sakhnin fans 88
(photo credit: )
When the 2007/08 season began four months ago the two newly promoted teams - Ironi Kiryat Shmona and Bnei Sakhnin - had one simple goal, Premier League survival. However, a lot has changed over the last 12 matches and the two teams meet in Kiryat Shmona on Saturday in a match between the fourth and fifth placed sides in the league. Kiryat Shmona, which has won three straight matches and is unbeaten in its last six, has yet to lose at home this season and will like its chances against a Sakhnin side which hasn't won on the road since October. The match in Kiryat Shmona could also have implications on the battle for European places, as just three points separate second-placed Maccabi Netanya and Maccabi Haifa in sixth position. Things are looking up for Haifa, which has only lost once in its last nine matches, after beginning the season with three consecutive defeats. The team will also be high in confidence against Ashdod SC on Saturday after getting the better of Betar Jerusalem in the Toto Cup semifinals on Wednesday. Ashdod's 0-0 draw with Maccabi Tel Aviv last week ended the team's four game losing streak, but still leaves the side languishing in the bottom half of the standings. Maccabi Netanya, which has won two straight matches after losing two in a row, will look to maintain its new- found form on Saturday, when it hosts Maccabi Herzliya. Herzliya has lost three straight games and could find itself in the relegation zone if its fails to collect all three points once more. New Bnei Yehuda coach Eli Cohen will guide the team for the first time on Saturday against Hapoel Kfar Saba. Cohen, who was fired by Maccabi Tel Aviv two matches into the season, faces a mammoth task at Bnei Yehuda. The team from southern Tel Aviv has lost seven straight matches and hasn't picked up a point in more than two months. "Bnei Yehdua has a long tradition and will also have a good future," Cohen said on Thursday. "Besides Betar all the teams in the league are more or less equal. Bnei Yehuda has a good squad, but we still need to add several more players so that there will be a bit of competition for places in the starting lineup. "I'm sure that as soon as we record some positive results we'll grow in confidence and the players will lift their play. I can't give any guarantees, but I believe we won't be relegated." Also Saturday, Maccabi Tel Aviv, which is only ahead of Bnei Yehuda on goal difference, hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva, which is unbeaten in its last six matches. On Sunday, bottom of the table Hapoel Tel Aviv travels to Teddy Stadium to face Betar in one of Israeli soccer's most hotly contested rivalries.