Joint leading scores and the best defence meant that Maccabi Haifa won the title in style.
By David Abrahams
It wasn’t so much the fact Maccabi Haifa were crowned Israeli champions for the 11th time that delighted coach Elisha Levy.
“Yes, it’s great to take the title back after two years, but I’m even happier with the way in which we achieved it,” he said.
Joint-top scorers and possessors of the best defensive record, Levy’s team emphatically deposed defending champions Beitar Jerusalem who, carrying a two-point deduction into the season following a pitch invasion last term, were docked a further point after admitting a charge that fans chanted racist abuse during a league game.
Beitar, who have one of the country’s worst disciplinary records, did manage to stop Maccabi Haifa completing the domestic double, though, beating them 2-1 in the State Cup Final.
Christian Alvarez and Aviram Baruchyan put them two up in the first half and it was not until the dismissal of Beitar’s Eliran Danin with 12 minutes to go that Maccabi Haifa began to threaten a comeback. Biram Kayal cut the deficit from the penalty spot two minutes from time but it was too little, too late as Beitar ended the campaign on a high. “It’s a sweet end to a turbulent season, and if we suffered a few blows then we have managed to bounce back,” said Beitar coach Reuven Atar.
However, Beitar’s future remains in the balance after Russia-born billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak, who took over the club in 2005, withdrew his funding. The club have so far been unable to find a replacement sponsor and licencing problems mean UEFA will not allow them to take their place in the Europa League qualifying stages.
Beitar’s place is taken by Bnei Yehuda, who are joined by runners-up Hapoel Tel Aviv and Netanya.
Fourth-placed Netanya, league runners-up for the previous two seasons, suffered from inconsistency and parted company with coach Lothar Matthaus.
Meanwhile, the expansion of the Premier League next season means six clubs have been promoted from the second tier – Hapoel Haifa (champions), Hapoel Acre, Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Hapoel Ramat Gan, Hapoel Ra’anana and Maccabi Ahi Nazareth, while Ironi Kiryat Shmona and Hakoah Ramat Gan went down.