Championship to be decided on season’s final day: Haifa stunned in Kiryat Shemona, Maccabi still in running

The Israel Soccer League Championship race will go down to the final day of the season on Sunday as Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Tel Aviv will both have a chance to claim the title. The Greens could have clinched their first championship in a decade on Wednesday at Kiryat Shemona however Barak Bachar’s club drew 1-1 with the northerners while the yellow-and-blue kept their hopes alive with a 2-1 win at Ashdod setting up for a dramatic finale.

Maccabi Haifa traveled up to Kiryat Shemona accompanied by over 5,000 loyal fans who came to see their club take their first championship since the 2010/11 campaign. However, 18-year old Mike Amanga’s injury time strike for Kobi Refuah’s team cancelled out a Godsway Donyoh goal to keep the champagne on ice as the match ended in a 1-1 draw.

After a goalless first half, coach Barak Bachar brought on super substitute Godsway Donyoh in the 56th minute in place of an ineffective Nikita Rukavystya in a move that paid dividends a quarter hour later. Sun Menachem sent Donyoh a terrific pass as the striker slipped the ball between Kiryat Shemona keeper Džiugas Bartkus and the right post to give the Greens a 1-0 lead sending their supporters into ecstasy. But their joy was short-lived as Amanga rifled home a tremendous marker past Haifa shot stopper Josh Cohen to stun the fans and split the points.

Maccabi Haifa will now have to wait until Sunday to try and sew up the title when they welcome Hapoel Beer Sheva to Sammy Ofer Stadium.

Barak Bachar who needed to literally pick the players up off of the pitch and lead them to the lockerroom following the game spoke about the disappointing result, “What has happened, happened and now I’ve got to pick up the guys and make sure they know that we are in charge of our own destiny. We need to win and become champs. We would have signed off on this opportunity at the start of the season. We needed to defend for just one more minute which reminds me of my first title with Beer Sheva when we lost on the second to last matchday and then we won. It was tough but it will be sweet if we do it right at the end.”

“We blew a chance to win the championship now, but we will be playing at home in front of over 30,000 fans and will come to win right from the get go. It won’t be easy but we have time to prepare but I know that we can do it. This is part of the beautiful game and I am certain that on Sunday we will finish the job.”

Kiryat Shmona coach Kobi Refuah also reflected on the game that was, “Before the game everyone wanted to know how many goals we were going to give up. We have a very strong team that gave 200% effort. I have to take my hat off to the players. This was like an away game for us with so many Haifa fans but they got our players going.”

Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Ashdod 2-1 at the port city to keep their title hopes alive and well. Eduardo Guerrero broke a goalless deadlock in the 77th minute when he roofed the ball into the Ashdod goal following a scramble in the box. Eylon Almog doubled the advantage ten minutes later in close off a Guerrero assist while Zakaria Mugees pulled a goal back just before the final whistle to break up Daniel Tenenbaum’s clean sheet.

The yellow-and-blue will host Kiryat Shemona at Bloomfield Stadium on Sunday as they all look to win and hope that Haifa loses in order to take the league title for the second straight season.

“First of all we won our game here which puts pressure on Haifa,” Maccabi Coach Patrick van Leuwen began. “We saw that they couldn’t do what was needed and the battle will go to the end. We will prepare as always to win and we don’t feel any pressure. I believe that we did a good job and showed our quality and I am sure that they will show that in the next game as well/ We will continue to fight and we have two games left.”

“I don’t like to lose but due to personnel issues I didn’t even know until the morning who would play,” Ashdod coach Ran Ben Shimon explained. “We played a number of guys who were injured but I believe I saw a better team than Maccabi today.”

Hapoel Beer Sheva downed Maccabi Petah Tikva 2-0 on a pair of late goals to take the points and keep their hopes alive for a European qualification spot. Anthony Varene scored in the 74th minute and Arik Yanko was charged with an own goal off a Marcelo Meli attempt to give Roni Levy’s squad a 2-0 win. Prior to the game Josue and Sagiv Yehezkel were in an altercation and both players were suspended by the club for the match.

“We got into the Championship playoffs at the last moment and we have continued to improve,” Levi stated. “I’ve said it many times that ether are no easy games and it was very important that we won especially since Petah Tikva are a very strong opponent who have had a good season. I am happy for the players and for the fans who came out for the game.”

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