Soccer / Premier League

Maccabi Tel Aviv Goes Seven Points Clear

Bnei Sakhnin continues winning streak.

Maccabi Tel Aviv extended its lead at the top of the Premier League to seven points with its sixth consecutive win yesterday, 2-0 over last-placed Bnei Yehuda.

This was not Maccabi at its best. In fact the team struggled against a surprisingly buoyant Bnei Yehuda for long periods during the game, that team’s first with new coach Yossi Abuksis in charge. While Bnei Yehuda’s performance belied its position, propping up the league table, the defending champion looked jaded.

Maccabi, whose striker Tal Ben Haim was forced to leave the field after half an hour with an eye injury, failed to seriously threaten to score until a Bnei Yehuda defender handled in the 41st minute. Eran Zahavi scored his 10th goal of the season from the penalty spot. Maccabi Swedish midfielder Rade Prica added the second, midway through the second half, with a fine shot on the turn from the edge of the box.

Second-placed Hapoel Be’er Sheva, this season’s surprise team, will have a chance to narrow the gap when it takes on troubled Hapoel Tel Aviv tomorrow.

Third-placed Bnei Sahknin, fresh from last week’s 4-0 trouncing of Hapoel Tel Aviv, kept a clean sheet for the fifth consecutive game with a comfortable 2-0 win at Hapoel Acre. Marco Balbul’s charges now stand only two points behind Hapoel Be’er Sheva, with a game in hand.

Sakhnin’s forward Ahmed Kasoum was his team’s hero, scoring from inside the penalty box in the 10th minute, then setting up Spanish midfielder Cristian Hidalgo for the second after 77 minutes.

But this encounter will be remembered for events that have nothing to do with the “beautiful game.” Some 2,000 Sakhnin fans, who comprised almost half the total gate, made most of the noise, including a few who hoisted Palestinian flags, raising the ire of the local fans and players alike. After Acre’s Yuval Naim made some unpleasant gestures toward the visiting fans, who themselves had been less than pleasant toward him, he became involved in a fracas with Sakhnin’s Mohammed Kalibat after the game.

Barak Badash scored his third goal in as many games as fourth-placed Kiryat Shmona eventually broke lowly Ramat Hasharon’s stubborn defense in the 81st minute. Badash, who earlier missed a first-half penalty, pounced on a loose ball during a goal-mouth scramble to stab the ball home after his team had repeatedly been thwarted. Two minutes later, the visitors’ Lithuanian midfielder Mindaugas Panka headed in from a corner to seal a 2-0 win.

Stuttering Maccabi Haifa, which will face a far sterner test against Maccabi Terl Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium next Sunday, can breath a sigh of relief after its 2-1 win against Ashdod at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.

Alon Turgeman opened the scoring after 20 minutes with a fine shot from the edge of the box. Haifa pressed for a second goal, but repeatedly came unstuck until it was awarded a questionable penalty four minutes after the break when the ball struck Ashdod defender Michael Siroshtein’s arm. Haifa’s Spanish midfielder Ruben Rayos kept his cool to convert the penalty.

But the former powerhouse of Israeli soccer is now but a shadow of its former self, and Haifa let Ashdod back into the game. When David Solari pulled one back in the 68th minute from a 35-meter free kick, the game was back on, and Ashdod kept pressing the hosts back until the final whistle.

Sefi Magrisso