Maccabi Haifa are Israel Soccer League Champions once again. After a ten year drought, the Carmel Greens captured their first league title in a decade as they defeated Hapoel Beer Sheva 3-2 in front of their home fans at Sammy Ofer Stadium. Haifa will participate in Champions League qualification in July while Beer Sheva clinched a place in the new UEFA Conference League competition.
Maccabi Haifa grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute via an Omer Atzily spot kick after Jose Rodriguez was pulled down by David Keltjens in the box to send the 30,000 strong into delirium. The Greens doubled their advantage 20 minutes later when Nikita Rukavytsya scored his 19th goal of the season as he added to his league leading total when he finished off a gorgeous team effort that was started by Rodriguez.
Tjaron Chery added Haifa’s third goal of the half via another penalty just ahead of the break after a Marwan Kabha handball as Barak Bachar’s squad took a commanding 3-0 lead. Tomer Yosefi pulled a goal back thanks to a Sinteyehu Sallalich assist for Hapoel Beer Sheva in the 58th minute while Farley Rosa cut the lead to 3-2 with ten minutes remaining in the game. However, it was too little too late for Roni Levy’s team as Maccabi Haifa closed out the championship in style.
Haifa Head Coach Barak Bachar spoke emotionally about taking the league title, his first with the Greens, “I’m still digesting what happened as it was so difficult all the way until the end. We had a lot of trouble along the way but the harder it was the more sweet it is. I was in the same situation five years ago, so I just knew that we would win it.”
“I had no doubt that we were going to be victorious and we really wanted to wrap it up much earlier and not have it come to the final match of the season. We were able to reach the goal which we set and I have to also credit Maccabi Tel Aviv for giving us such a fight.”
Nikita Rukavtsya who scored the second goal also reflected on taking the championship, “This is very special. I came to the club five years ago and I wanted to help take this team to the tip od Israeli soccer and I am happy that I was able to do exactly that. This is soccer and anything came happen. We had to fight all the way until the last second and we deserved it as we did an amazing job from the outset of the season.”
“This was an amazing experience,” Captain Neta Lavi began. “I am so proud of everyone, what a great group of guys. I would need days to explain what has gone on at the club over the past few years. This title belongs to the fans and we are so happy for the city of Haifa.”
Beer Sheva coach Roni Levy congratulated the new champions, “Maccabi Haifa deserved this title. We reached our goals and Beer Sheva is a big club. I believe that we will add the correct players so that we can get next season started off on the right foot.
Maccabi Tel Aviv and Kiryat Shemona drew 2-2 in an entertaining clash at Bloomfield Stadium to finish 4 points behind Maccabi Haifa in second place as they earned a qualifying spot in the new UEFA Conference League European competition. Patrick van Leeuwen’s squad scored a pair of first half goals but were canceled out by the visitors strikes in the second half and will now prepare for Wednesday night’s Israel State Cup Final against Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Enric Saborit came streaking down the left side and swung a cross into Nick Blackman but keeper Dziugas Bartkus snatched the ball away from danger while a few minutes later Dan Bitton’s cross was smartly headed by Eduardo Guerrero but was saved by the northerner’s shot stopper just in the nick of time.
Maccabi kept applying all kinds of pressure which paid off in the 18th minute when Bitton sent a brilliant strike from 25 meters out that dipped over a helpless Bartkus to give the yellow-and-blue a 1-0 lead. Matan Hozez and Guerrero had back-to-back chances but missed the target while at the other end Eugene Ansah hit the woodwork. However, once again Bitton was at the center of attention as he took a clever Guerrero pass and slipped the ball right under Bartkus for a 2-0 lead just ahead of the halftime break.
Kiryat Shemona looked to cut into the Maccabi lead and they did exactly that when Lucio sent a stunner into the top left hand corner of Daniel Tenenbaum’s goal to narrow the gap to 2-1 while Ansah found the equalizer deep into second half injury time to split the points.
“We are now looking ahead to the State Cup Final,” Maccabi coach Patrick van Leeuwen said. “We lost the championship in Kiryat Shemona where we started off well but ended up losing. No one gave us a chance but we fought for the league title and the players were able to get us back into the championship race.”
“We didn’t show at all in the first half and we gave Maccabi way too much open space,” Kiryat Shemona coach Kobi Refuah explained. “I’m proud of how we were able to come back just like I have been all season long.”
Ashdod downed Maccabi Petah Tikva 3-1 as the port city squad scored a trio of second half goals to cement a third place finish to end their campaign on a high note at the Moshava Stadium. Idan Dahan gave Ran Ben Shimon’s team a 1-0 lead in the 57th minute, but Liel Abada evened the score a quarter hour later for Petah Tikva. However, two late goals by Dean David and Yakov Brihen handed the visitors the victory.