A day after receiving the stunning announcement that its midfielder Eyal Golasa had secretly signed with Italy's S.S. Lazio, Maccabi Haifa seemed to reach the conclusion yesterday that the case it planned to make to FIFA that that the 18-year-old wunderkind was in breach of contract was doomed to fail.

Sources close to club chairman Yaakov Shahar and his deputy Uzi Mor said the two voiced concern yesterday that soccer's world governing body would not view the contract signed two years ago between with Golasa's guardians as binding, and that the player's "defection" would therefore be considered legitimate.

Members of the player's inner circle said they had shown the Haifa contract to Lazio legal advisers, who said it does not represent a binding agreement and the midfielder was therefore to be considered a free agent.

Golasa signed a 350,000 euro, 5-year contract with the Rome-based Italian Cup holder on Sunday after he reportedly grew frustrated that Haifa had not offered him a contract upon his 18th birthday as promised.

Golasa's former Haifa teammates extended their cushion at the top of the Premier League last night by scraping by 1-0 at Maccabi Petah Tikva. Georgia international Vladimir Dvalishvili scored in the 72nd to put him one goal short of teammate Shlomi Arbeitman as the league's top scorer thus far.

The win puts Haifa at 55 points, 12 ahead of its nearest competitor, Hapoel Tel Aviv. Haifa midfielder Biram Kayal said afterward, "The title still isn't in the bag - a gap of 12 points isn't enough. There is still time until the whole thing is wrapped up."

The dispute between Haifa and Golasa goes well beyond the soccer field. Golasa's family still hopes he can be recognized as an "outstanding athlete" and therefore eligible to postpone his Israel Defense Forces service by four years, then perform his duty in a manner limited in both length and scope. Golasa is slated to enlist in July.

"There is only one athlete in Israel who is considered a prodigy, and that's Ben Sahar," said an official at the Israel Football Association of the 20-year-old striker for Spain's Espanyol. "Golasa needs to be a significant player on the senior national team to meet the necessary criteria. The chance of that happening is zero."

Golasa's mother, Mira, said she is unmoved by prospects that her son will serve neither in the army nor on Israel's national team. "If no solution is found, Eyal won't serve in the army at all. The national team? Big deal, so he won't play for the national team. As if it's such an honor to play for the national team. It's just Israel's team - it doesn't need to made into such a big deal," she said.

In Rome fans watched closely as the scandal unfolded across the Mediterranean. Lazio's diehard fans have at times been accused of hooliganism and of fascist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, and it is not uncommon to see swastikas sprayed in graffiti around the Stadio Olimpico and the affluent northern suburbs of Rome considered the club's strongholds.

Some fan Web sites praised the acquisition - one ran the headline "Forza Golasa!", while another fan-run site denigrated the player as a "dirty Jew." The club's official Web site described the midfielder as a "jewel," and no less than Israel's finest player.

Lazio - a century-old club which spent most of its history in Serie A and has two titles and five Italian Cups under its belt - is currently languishing in 15th place on 22 points.

Tottenham captain Robbie Keane joined Celtic on loan yesterday as the transfer window closed shut. The Republic of Ireland striker informed Harry Redknapp that the Glasgow club was the only one he wanted to join, and coach Tony Mowbray has now landed his top target.

West Ham signed a trio of strikers: South African Benni McCarthy, Egyptian Mido and Brazilian Ilan.