While league-leading Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Hapoel Haifa 3-1 yesterday, Beitar Jerusalem collapsed at Teddy Stadium, falling 4-1 to Kiryat Shmona.
Hapoel Ra’anana leapfrogged past Hapoel Haifa into third by shutting out F.C. Ashdod 3-0 at home. Bnei Sakhnin caught up to Haifa on points by knocking out Maccabi Petah Tikva 3-1 on the road.
Second-place Hapoel Be’er Sheva will host Ramat Hasharon tomorrow. Maccabi Haifa visits Hapoel Tel Aviv this evening.
Hapoel Haifa gave Maccabi Tel Aviv trouble for most of the evening, but the defending champion proved too strong in the second half. Maccabi tested Hapoel goalkeeper Dreshler Kale a couple of times, yet it was Haifa that drew first blood in the 31st minute. Liran Serdal sent over a cross, which Maccabi defender Eitan Tibi botched his clearance. Macedonian striker Zarko Korac pounced and fired past Juan Pablo with a rising shot.
Maccabi began asserting its supremacy in the 50th minute when Omri Ben Harush rose beautifully to meet a corner kick and head the ball into the far corner. Kale could do nothing but watch the equalizer sail past him.
Tel Aviv went ahead in the 75th minute, after Barak Itzhaki won a dubious penalty following an innocuous push from Amir Nussbaum. Itzhaki picked himself up and scored from the penalty spot. Eight minutes later, Tel Ben Haim came in from the left wing and shot, the ball flying past Kale and putting an end to the story.
Hapoel Haifa then lost its cool as coach Shlomi Dora was sent to the locker room and Ahad Azam was sent off for his second yellow card, sealing Haifa’s fate.
Over in Jerusalem, Kiryat Shmona exploited Beitar’s porous defense with three first-half goals to settle the game virtually before the break. In the 17th minute, Tamir Cohen took a pass from Ahmed Abed, and from seven meters beat Beitar goalkeeper Ariel Harush with a straight shot into the far corner.
Twelve minutes later, Beitar’s Eli Dassa scored a miserable own goal, hitting the ball back to Harush but sending it too high for the goalkeeper to reach. Just before halftime, Tamir Kahlon beat Harush from the penalty spot.
The fans at Teddy, who had started verbally abusing their coach after the first goal, amplified their boos with every subsequent score by the visitors.
Beitar recaptured a little self-respect in the second half, pulling to within two goals in the 64th minute. Demonstrating skill and determination, Sintayehu Sallalich single-handedly set up a scoring opportunity for himself and scored with deadly accuracy, cutting Kiryat Shmona’s lead to 3-1.
But that was as good as it would get. Beitar’s defense failed to clear the ball in the 75th minute from its own goal, and paid the price as Mindaugas Panka nailed his shot for the emphatic 4-1 final score.
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