Soccer / Premier League / Mac. Haifa Shows Hapoel Tel Aviv Why It's on Top

Sefi Krupsky
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Sefi Krupsky

In a grudge match played before a raucous crowd at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv yesterday, Maccabi Haifa held on for a 2-1 victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv, thus extending its lead in the Premier League. After their respective European interludes, it was back to Premier League reality for the two clubs.

Maccabi Haifa looked to shake off the stench of losing after its bruising match against Bayern Munich, while Hapoel hoped to close the gap with the first-place club from the north.

As the coaches feared would happen following the games against the European clubs, however, fatigue plagued both teams in the second half. Neither side was crisp, though it was particularly evident that Hapoel had exhausted itself mentally.

Notably absent at the start was Tel Aviv's struggling Samuel Yeboah (see story below). Yet striker Mehran Lala - who was inserted into the starting lineup in Yeboah's stead - did little to justify his presence, and Yeboah replaced him in the 59th minute, getting in a couple of shots on goal.

Omri Canada was a no show throughout the match, and Maccabi exploited his poor play to its advantage. Hapoel midfielder Bibras Natkho, who was touted by many as someone with the potential to carry the team, also put forth a disappointing effort.

Maccabi wasted little time in taking command of the match. In the second minute of the first half, Yaniv Katan converted a penalty, after Hapoel's Omri Canada was called for handling the ball inside the goal box.

Haifa extended its lead to 2-0 in the 26th minute when midfielder Eyal Golasa's floater from 20 meters eluded the outstretched arms of Hapoel goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and found the corner of the net.

Hapoel would give its home fans some solace in the 36th minute. Striker Itay Shechter sneaked a ball through the legs of Haifa goalkeeper Nir Davidovitch. Davidovitch gambled recklessly by leaving the net in an attempt to beat Shechter to the ball as he was approaching the goal from the left side.

"The match barely began before we were down 1-0," said Hapoel coach Eli Guttman after the game. "We moved past that, pressured and dominated. We were vulnerable to breakaway attacks and because of a lack of concentration, we suffered the second goal."

Guttman complained about the match being moved up in the schedule, squeezed between Celtic and Beitar Jerusalem in the Toto Cup tomorrow.

Toto Cup action resumes tonight

The sixth round of the Toto Cup's Premier League group stage takes off tonight, starting with Hapoel Ra'anana - which is tied at the top of group three - visiting Hapoel Haifa at 6 P.M.

Maccabi Tel Aviv - which leads group two - takes on Hapoel Ramat Gan at home an hour later. Group four leader Bnei Yehuda, tied with Beitar Jerusalem, goes to Maccabi Netanya at 8 P.M. Other matches include Maccabi Petah Tikva vs. Hapoel Be'er Sheva, Ahi Nazereth vs. Hapoel Acre, and Bnei Sakhnin hosting Ashdod S.C.

(Tomer Ratman contributed to this report)